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Rural New England Counties See Big Increase in Overdose Rates

University of New Hampshire's Carsey School of Public Policy

Opioid overdose rates are rising rapidly in rural counties, according to new research from the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy.

Rates remain higher overall in urban areas, but have jumped more quickly outside of city centers, researchers found. They looked at two decades of death data collected by the Centers for Disease Control. 

Death rates have jumped most dramatically in rural areas of the Midwest and Northeast United States, including New Hampshire.

Carsey School Fellow Shannon Monnat, who led the research, said it speaks to a failure of public policy aimed at stemming the crisis.

“When we take a look at the policies that have really been enacted, they’re trying to target downstream drivers – things like increasing access to treatment, increasing access to Narcan,” she said. “While those practices are certainly important, they’re not going to get us out of this problem.”

Instead, she pointed to long-running challenges in many rural communities as underlying drivers, things like economic decline and social isolation. People living under these conditions are at higher risk for developing substance use disorders, she said.

The study also found heroin and synthetic opioids are responsible for a growing share of overdose deaths nationally.

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