Substance use disorders are one of the top clinical concerns for primary care facilities in Washington, according to a recent NW HERON survey of state healthcare administrators (view survey summary). The Washington Department of Health currently reports an average of 2 opioid overdose deaths per day in the state, while nationally there has been a 300% increase in opioid-related deaths over the last 2 decades.
To better understand why some rural counties in Washington experience higher rates of opioid overdose mortality than others, WSU graduate student Sam Castonguay has prepared a report that explores characteristics unique to Clallam, Chelan, and Walla Walla counties. Under the supervision of Dr. Justin Denney – Scientific Co-Director of NW HERON and Associate Professor of Sociology – Castonguay takes an in-depth look at the factors underlying geographic variation in opioid overdose deaths across Washington.
Castonguay’s interest in substance use disorders grew out of her prior work with a harm reduction nonprofit agency in upstate New York. As a doctoral student in WSU’s Sociology Department, she saw an opportunity to work with Dr. Denney to examine opioid overdose mortality using methods sensitive to intra-rural context. “I was originally trying to map opioid overdose mortality risk based on a few spatial factors, like distance to the nearest hospital and Naloxone access points,” Castonguay says. “I reached out to Justin (Denney) to help brainstorm overdose risk factors. We were really surprised by all the data available!”
Castonguay and Denney hope the report, which aligns with several initiatives presented in the Washington State Opioid Response Plan, will prove useful for understanding and combatting the opioid epidemic in rural areas of Washington. They intend for the data to provide local practitioners and clinics affiliated with NW HERON with insights to help tailor individualized plans to beat opioid addiction and mortality.