High levels of income inequality and increased opioid-related harm across Canada bring into question the role of socioeconomic status (SES) in the opioid epidemic. Only a few studies have examined this association, and most of those have analyzed this issue on a provincial level. This study examined the association between opioid-related health outcomes and SES, and investigated rate ratios over time.
Administrative databases were used to identify opioid-related mortality, hospitalization and emergency department visits between 2000 and 2017. Patient’s postal code was linked to the quintile of median household income at the forward sortation area level. Crude rates and age- and sex-adjusted rates in each quintile were calculated, as well as the adjusted rate ratio of average annual rates between the lowest and highest quintiles. The significance of the time trend of rate ratios for all outcomes was examined using linear regression.
A stepped gradient of opioid-related outcomes across all income quintiles emerged from these data. For mortality, hospitalization and emergency department visits, the average annual rate ratio between lowest quintile and highest quintile was 3.8, 4.3 and 4.9, respectively. These ratios were generally stable and consistent over the study period, albeit the opioid-related mortality SES gap decreased gradually (p $lt; 0.01).
Area income quintile was found to be highly associated with opioid outcomes. Psychosocial factors (stress, unemployment, housing insecurity) that are typically concentrated in low SES areas may play a significant role in the opioid epidemic. Health policies should address these factors in order to provide effective solutions.