County-level predictors of US drug overdose mortality: A systematic review

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2023 Jan 1;242:109714. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2022.109714. Epub 2022 Nov 24.


Background: This systematic review summarized published literature on county-level predictors of drug overdose mortality in the United States (US).

Methods: Peer-reviewed studies and doctoral dissertations published in English between 1990 and July 19, 2022 were identified from PubMed, Web of Science, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and EconLit. Eligible studies examined at least one county-level predictor of drug overdose mortality in US counties. Two reviewers independently completed screening, quality assessment (with an adapted National Institutes of Health Quality Assessment Tool), and data extraction. Results were qualitatively summarized and grouped by predictor categories.

Results: Of 56 studies included, 42.9% were subnational, and 53.6% were limited to opioid overdose. In multiple studies, measures related to opioid prescribing, illness/disability, economic distress, mining employment, incarceration, family distress, and single-parent families were positively associated with drug overdose mortality outcomes, while measures related to cannabis dispensaries, substance use treatment, social capital, and family households were negatively associated with drug overdose mortality outcomes. Both positive and negative associations were documented for smoking, uninsurance, healthcare professional shortage status, physicians per capita, unemployment, income, poverty, educational attainment, racial composition, and rurality. Findings within studies also differed by subpopulation (by race/ethnicity, gender, age, or rurality) and the type of drugs involved in overdose.

Conclusions: The findings of this review provide relatively mixed evidence regarding many county-level predictors of overdose mortality, several of which also vary between subpopulations, supporting the importance of additional research to elucidate pathways through which the county context may shape risk of fatal overdose.

Keywords: County-level; Drug overdose; Mortality; Opioid; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Drug Overdose*
  • Ethnicity
  • Humans
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Substance-Related Disorders*
  • United States


  • Analgesics, Opioid