Local Policy and Programmatic Activity to Address the US Opioid Crisis: A Cross-Sectional Survey of County Governments

J Public Health Manag Pract. 2021 Jul-Aug;27(4):342-351. doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000001194.


Context: Despite attention to federal and state governments' response to the US opioid crisis, few studies have systematically examined local governments' role in tackling this problem.

Objectives: To determine what opioid policy and programmatic activities local governments are implementing, which activities are more challenging and require a greater latent ability to implement, and what community, environmental, and institutional factors shape such ability.

Design: A cross-sectional survey and multistage sampling procedure.

Setting/participants: Of all 358 county governments in 5 purposively selected states (Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington) surveyed, 171 counties (response rate = 47.8%) with complete data on self-reported policy and programmatic activities and predictor variables were eligible for analysis.

Main outcome measures: Nineteen opioid policy and programmatic activities were analyzed individually and combined into a latent implementation ability index using empirical Bayes means estimates.

Results: Item response theory and bivariate analysis were applied. Item response theory estimates suggested that having police officers carry naloxone and establishing a task force of community leaders were easier to implement than more challenging activities such as establishing needle exchanges and allowing arrest alternatives for opioid offenses. Covering individuals' treatment costs was predicted to involve the highest ability. County population size (r = 0.34; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.20-0.47), population density (r = 0.35; 95% CI, 0.21-0.47), and being a Pennsylvania county (r = 0.45; 95% CI, 0.32-0.56) showed the strongest associations with latent implementation ability.

Conclusions: Counties appear engaged in opioid policy and programmatic activity, although some activities are likely more difficult and may require greater ability to implement than others. More sparsely populated counties appear more disadvantaged in implementing activities for tackling the opioid crisis and may need additional assistance to leverage their ability to build a comprehensive policy and programmatic infrastructure.

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Local Government*
  • Opioid Epidemic*
  • Policy
  • United States