SALEM, Ore. — Perhaps it's of no surprise to anyone, but a recent study found that Oregon has something of a drug problem. In fact, the report by WalletHub ranked the Beaver State at number 12 in the country out of 51, including Washington, D.C.
The study took into account a large number of factors, each weighted differently — including the number of teens and adults who reported using illicit drugs in the past month, number of drug arrests per capita, the quality of prescription drug monitoring laws, and the number of adults who needed but could not receive treatment for illicit drug use.
'Biggest drug problem' states by overall score
- District of Columbia
- West Virginia
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
(According to WalletHub study)
"In order to determine which states have the biggest drug problems, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia in three overall categories: 1) Drug Use & Addiction, 2) Law Enforcement and 3) Drug Health Issues & Rehab," study author John S. Kiernan wrote.
Oregon also had the highest percentage of adult drug users in the country, according to the study, and the third highest percentage of teen drug users. Oregon scored higher overall than either Washington or California, the latter of which actually ranked relatively low, coming in at 41.
Nationwide trends were somewhat more difficult to determine. Midwestern states had, on average, some of the least prevalent drug problems in the nation — with some notable exceptions that scored near the top, like Michigan and Indiana.
States that leaned Democrat tended to have a larger "drug problem" than states that leaned Republican, according to WalletHub.
Some of the categories employed in the study did make reference to marijuana use, particularly among teens — for example, the share of teenagers who tried marijuana before age 13.
However, the biggest issue outlined in the study concerned the nationwide opioid epidemic. WalletHub surveyed a group of experts on what state and local authorities can to do combat the epidemic, both on the level of policy and on an individual level.
"Treatment options are incredibly important for individuals with Opioid Use Disorder. However, if we can keep the behavior from happening in the first place, we need to focus on prevention," said Dr. Courtney Olcott with the Indiana University School of Public Health. "To that end, the first step in effectively addressing the opioid epidemic at the state and local levels is to take a collaborative approach and have a representative coalition of individuals that understand all facets of the epidemic and ensure prevention is a prioritized focus."
While the epidemic certainly does include the use of illicit opioids, Dr. Olcott points out that it is inextricably linked with the misuse of prescription drugs.
"Because prescriptions are perceived as safer than 'street drugs,' people do not understand that it is illegal to take another person’s medication or to give it out and may not completely grasp the dangers of becoming addicted," Dr. Olcott said.
She also observes that the opioid saga has resulted in a cascade of unintended consequences: First, with doctors increasing prescription of pain-killers due to a growing understanding of pain as "another type of illness," gradually leading to increased availability of prescription opioid drugs for illicit use. Later, Dr. Olcott says, law enforcement crackdown increased the prices of the "safe" prescription opiods while causing the prices of street drugs to drop.
"Obviously, having more prescriptions available is going to contribute to more pills being consumed. Prescribing practices have contributed to the epidemic, but it was in response to the political climate and legitimate medical needs," she said.