Senator Mike Lee’s Social Capital Project (SCP) released a comprehensive report on the Opioid crisis on Tuesday. The report, simply titled, “The Numbers Behind the Opioid Crisis,” uncovers the face of opiate addiction in shocking detail.
Lee’s SCP was founded to house professional-level research on the current state of American “associational” life, and the “web of social relationships through which we pursue joint endeavors,” including families, the churches, workplaces, and several other social organizations. This, is the second full report from the SCP.
The report discovered that the opioid epidemic claimed almost 50,000 deaths in 2016 alone. Of this number, most fell into three tranches – the young, unmarried, uneducated, and divorced.
Education and marriage were found to be key predictors of opioid abuse. One third of the Americans over 25 had at least a bachelor’s degree and that particular group accounted for only 9% of all the opioid overdose deaths, as per the report. Forty% had a high school degree or less, yet they represented 68% of opioid overdose deaths. The remaining 23% of opioid deaths were attributable to the 27% of the population with only “some” of them being college education.
This division among Americans is also highly pronounced when comparing married/widowed Americans to their single or divorced peers. Sixty-eight% of Americans over 25 were married or widowed in 2015, and that accounted for only 28% of the total opioid overdose deaths. By contrast, never-married and divorced Americans over 25 are 32% of the population, but accounted for massive 71% of all opioid overdose deaths.
In other words, the opioid epidemic hits disproportionately those who are without an access to education or are unmarried.
“Since at least Durkheim, we have known that marriage is an important source of social integration,” said Bradford Wilcox, a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. “This new report indicates that today’s ‘deaths of despair’ are much more common among men and women who are never married or divorced. That is, Americans who are disconnected from one of our nations core institutions: marriage.”
In a twist, the report does find opiod use helps creates communities. “In some areas, illegal pills are a form of community currency, with those who use opioids daily having relatively more social connections,” it noted.
But, these networks remain to be “relatively isolated” from other friends and family members, who most often are unaware of their relative or friend’s abuse of opioids—one survey cited by the report found that one-third of respondents couldn’t even identify the signs of prescription drug abuse. In other words, while opioid users can have more of a social connection, those social connections are mostly to other opioid users.
The report also emphasizes the broader scale of the epidemic — where opioids are responsible for more than three quarters of the 64,000 drug overdose deaths in America in 2016, and are the number one cause of injury death in the United States, outpacing homicide, suicide, and car crashes. Drug overdose is undoubtedly the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years of age, much of which is attributable to the opioids. Almost 1 in 7 Americans have abused prescription opioids at some point in their lives.
“We documented dramatically higher rates of opioid overdose mortality among single men who have no more than a high school education as compared with their married counterparts. That difference hints that being embedded within social relationships may protect against addiction or make treatment more successful, though the evidence is only suggestive,” the study reads.