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Opioid abuse and austerity: evidence on health service use and mortality in England

Friebel, Rocco ORCID: 0000-0003-1256-9096, Yoo, Katelyn Jison and Maynou, Laia (2022) Opioid abuse and austerity: evidence on health service use and mortality in England. Social Science & Medicine, 298. ISSN 0277-9536

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Identification Number: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114511


Opioid abuse has become a public health concern among many developed countries, with policymakers searching for strategies to mitigate adverse effects on population health and the wider economy. The United Kingdom has seen dramatic increases in opioid-related mortality following the financial crises in 2008. We examine the impact of spending cuts resulting from government prescribed austerity measures on opioid-related hospitalisations and mortality, thereby expanding on existing evidence suggesting a countercyclical relationship with macroeconomic performance. We take advantage of the variation in spending cuts passed down from central government to local authorities since 2010, with reductions in budgets of up to fifty percent in some areas resulting in the rescaling of vital public services. Longitudinal panel data methods are used to analyse a comprehensive, linked dataset that combines information from spending records, official death registry data and large administrative health care data for 152 local authorities (i.e., unitary authorities and county councils) in England between April 2010 and March 2017. A total of 280,827 people experienced a hospital admission in the English National Health Service because of an opioid overdose and 14,700 people died from opioids across the study period. Local authorities that experienced largest spending cuts also saw largest increases in opioid abuse. Interactions between changes in unemployment and spending items for welfare programmes show evidence about the importance for governments to protect populations from social-risk effects at times of deteriorating macroeconomic performance. Our study carries important lessons for countries aiming to address high rates of opioid abuse, including the United States, Canada and Sweden.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 The Authors
Divisions: Health Policy
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 18 Nov 2021 16:12
Last Modified: 19 Jul 2024 21:27

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