The number of babies born addicted to opioids has tripled over the last fifteen years.  Over 3% of babies born in West Virginia in 2013 went through withdrawal symptoms.

A very strong predictor of opioid use is SSI-Disability receipt, which is probably not that surprising: if you get SSI-D for pain, you get medicine for pain, some of which is addictive. But there is spillover– the places where it’s easier to get a prescription, it’s also easier for people without a prescription to get drugs.



There’s probably some substitution between alcohol and opioids; here is the map of alcoholic cirrhosis-related death rates as of 2011: there’s not much overlap, overall.



Why are both these rates going up so very much, particularly for white women, and particularly in rural areas? Death rates for white women from alcoholic liver cirrhosis went up 43% from 2000 to 2011. Death rates from opiate overdoses also went up by a factor of about three to four over that same time.

One thought is that it’s partly about pain; if these death rates are highly correlated with obesity as well as SSI-D receipt, it may be that sedentary lifestyles and  being overweight mean a lot more women are in chronic pain, which leads to self-medication and addiction. Reported rates of chronic pain (see Table 2) have also gone up.

There could be other social causes: living alone might make you less likely to get out of the house and exercise, contributing to obesity and chronic pain, as well as to drinking alone or taking pills. And it could be economic:  illegal opiates along with other drugs have become cheaper in recent years, as well, in part due to the war in Afghanistan and the increases in poppy cultivation there.


So we’re invading countries to make it easier for them to produce drugs in vast quantities and then paying for Americans to buy them at home, leaving a substantial number of babies who may require far more care than normal for a good portion of their lives, that their parents are largely unable to provide.

Never doubt that a committed nation can make a bad problem worse.

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