"There's nothing here": Deindustrialization as risk environment for overdose

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Background: Applying the "risk environment" approach proposed by Rhodes (2002, 2009), this study considers the diverse contextual factors contributing to drug overdose in a deindustrialized region of the United States. The Monongahela Valley of Pennsylvania, once a global center of steel production, has suffered a mass exodus of jobs, residents, and businesses since a national manufacturing crisis erupted in the early 1980s; more recently, it has seen a dramatic uptick in accidental drug poisoning deaths. Where recent local and national media attention to overdose has focused on suburban areas and middle class victims, this study concentrates instead on the deteriorating mill city of McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Methods: Eighteen clients of the city's sole drug treatment facility participated in in-depth interviews concerning their direct experience with accidental overdose. Specifically, participants were asked to describe their own most recent overdose event and/or the last overdose they had personally witnessed. They were also asked to speculate upon the roots of the local overdose epidemic, while venturing possible remedies. Results: In relating their overdose experiences, participants characterized a micro-level risk environment that was hidden behind closed doors, and populated by unprepared, ambivalent overdose "assistants." Tasked with explaining a geographic concentration of overdose in and around McKeesport, interviewees referenced the hopelessness of the area and its lack of opportunity as driving the use of heroin, with many explicitly suggesting the need for jobs and community reinvestment to reduce fatalities. Conclusion: While state and county efforts to ameliorate overdose mortality have focused upon creating an open market in naloxone, this study suggests the need for interventions that address the poverty and social isolation of opiate users in the post-industrial periphery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-26
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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