Socioeconomic marginalization and opioid-related overdose: A systematic review

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2020 Sep 1;214:108127. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.108127. Epub 2020 Jun 20.


Background: Socioeconomic marginalization (SEM) is an important but under-explored determinant of opioid overdose with important implications for health equity and associated public policy initiatives. This systematic review synthesizes evidence on the role of SEM in both fatal and non-fatal overdose among people who use opioids.

Methods: Studies published between January 1, 2000 and March 31, 2018 were identified through searching electronic databases, citations, and by contacting experts. The titles, abstracts, citation information, and descriptor terms of citations were screened by two team members. Data were synthesized using the lumping technique.

Results: A total of 37 studies met inclusion criteria and were included in the review, with 34 of 37 finding a significant association between at least one socioeconomic factor and overdose. The included studies contained variables related to eight socioeconomic factors: criminal justice system involvement, income, employment, social support, health insurance, housing/homelessness, education, and composite measures of socio-economic status. Most studies found associations in the hypothesized direction, whereby increased SEM was associated with a higher rate or increased likelihood of the overdose outcome measured. The review revealed an underdeveloped evidence base.

Conclusions: Nearly all reviewed studies found a connection between a socioeconomic variable and overdose, but more research is needed with an explicit focus on SEM, using robust and nuanced measures that capture multiple dimensions of disadvantage, and collect data over time to better inform decision making around opioid overdose.

Keywords: Drug-related death; Poisoning; Poverty; Socioeconomic status; Toxicity.

Publication types

  • Review