GEMS 125th Anniversary Virtual Educational Series #6

Brian King

Professor and Head, Department of Geography, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State

Infectious Addictions: Geographies of Colliding Epidemics

The co-occurrence of the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting significant challenges for human health and addiction treatment. Policy responses to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have the potential to compound patterns of opioid use and misuse and affect the provisioning of treatment services. Social and economic patterns associated with the pandemic are expected to intensify mental health pressures and geographic patterns of opioid use and misuse. Since the onset of the pandemic, media attention and numerous policy commentaries have drawn attention to the intersections of addiction and COVID-19. However, there remain few empirical studies that examine the direct impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for opioid overdose patterns. In this presentation, I report the findings from analyses of opioid overdoses in the state of Pennsylvania prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic. These statistical analyses are supplemented with qualitative interviews with public health providers that have been conducted since December 2020. We find that opioid overdoses have increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic and that spatial patterns of incidence vary across the state. We argue the pandemic is transforming the opioid epidemic by disrupting pre-existing patterns of opioid overdose incidence, specifically in terms of the urban-rural divide, populations most impacted, and differences in morbidity and mortality. 


Tuesday Nov 9, 2021, 12 - 1 PM EST

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