Age, Food Security, And Financial Situation All Common Factors in OUD Cases


A new study from JAPHA explores the link between OUD and social factors.

The opioid epidemic in the United States has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in recent years, and that number continues to rise. The mortality rate of individuals who use opioids can be up to 30 times higher than the rate of individuals who do not. A recent study from JAPHA1 examined the link between Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) and the social factors surrounding those struggling with opioid use.

Running through 2017 and 2018, the study consisted of 5,003 patients—all of which visited one of ProMedica’s facilities who were considered users of opioids—and 209 patients who were considered to have Opioid Use Disorder. Social factors like financial situation, level of food security, education level, and age were all studied. There were noticeable disparities between the OUD group and the non-OUD groupregarding essentially every social factor.

Almost 70% of patients in the OUD group had some level of financial strain, compared to 58% in the opioid user group. Overall, patients with OUD were more than twice as likely to encounter financial hardship or food insecurity, which in turn made them more susceptible to continued dangerous opioid use; a vicious cycle that becomes increasingly difficult to escape.

Individuals with opioid prescriptions were more likely to misuse the medication if they had high food insecurity, high financial strain, lower levels of education (individuals without a high school diploma were at higher risk) or if they did not have a pain-related diagnosis.

The study also presented facts about gender disparities regarding OUD, but would not make a conclusion either way about women or men progressing any faster to addiction than the other. “Women seem to be less likely than men to suffer from OUD, as presented in other studies.However, a report published by the Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health in 2017 showed that although the death rates from prescription opioid overdoses increased 471% for women between 1999 and 2015 compared to an increase of 218% for men, the gender differences in regard to OUD, such as women progressing faster to addiction, are still debated and should be further researched.”

Solution-wise, the study emphasizes opioid education and familial support for people struggling with OUD. Getting screened for SDoH can also help to mitigate the dangers of social factors andreduce the risks of OUD before they become unmanageable. ProMedica--which is the health care system that patients of this study were treated at— opened a supermarket in a food dessert, and referred patients to community organizations for services they need. Essentially, the study concludes that providing more personalized and widespread resources for people who have a high risk of developing OUD will be helpful in the path to ending what has become a crisis in the United States.

“While these programs are valuable, we must continue to change the attitudes and social coherence of our caregivers, staff, and providers to ensure we are improving health outcomes.” 

1. Arsene C, Na L, Patel P, Vaidya V, Williamson AA, Singh S, The Importance of Social Risk Factors for Patients Diagnosed with Opioid Use Disorder, Journal of the American Pharmacists Association (2023), doi:
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