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New Community Assessment Tool Enables for the First Time an In-depth, County-by-County, Look at Impact of Opioid Epidemic across Entire United States

Press Release

  • Data visualization tool highlights the county-level relationships between overdose deaths and socioeconomic factors, including poverty, unemployment, education, and disability, for counties across the United States.
  • The National Opioid Misuse Community Assessment tool is free and available to the public. It can be accessed at
  • Unique resource is joint effort of research firm NORC at the University of Chicago's Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis and USDA Rural Development.

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 4, 2018 — Today, NORC at the University of Chicago and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development released a community assessment tool revealing the impact of the opioid epidemic on counties across the United States and the epidemic’s relation to socioeconomic factors such as unemployment, poverty, education, and disability.

The National Opioid Misuse Community Assessment Tool, an interactive data visualization, integrates overdose mortality rates for counties in each of the 50 states with data on unemployment, poverty, and disability, among others. Users can compare county-level information to the rest of their state and to the nation and see a visual representation of how the data has changed over time. The tool provides fact sheets to support community planning and response efforts. Data covers the time period from 2007 through 2017.

“One of the great public health challenges of our time is addressing the opioid epidemic,” said Dan Gaylin, CEO of NORC. “While a national challenge, much of the solution lies at the local level. This work with the USDA lets us bring the data visualization capacity of NORC to the service of people across the nation, providing them with important information about the extent of the opioid challenge in their own county and how it compares with the rest of the nation.”

The tool was developed by NORC at the University of Chicago. The pilot project, The Appalachian Overdose Mapping Tool, which demonstrated that the technology could be rapidly brought to national scale, was developed by NORC in collaboration with the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments in the Appalachian Region.

“Under the leadership of President Trump, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural America in addressing this monumental challenge,” said Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, Anne Hazlett. “Local leaders in small towns across our country need access to user-friendly and relevant data to assist them in building grassroots solutions for prevention, treatment and recovery.”

“One of the great public health challenges of our time is addressing the opioid epidemic.”

Dan Gaylin


“One of the great public health challenges of our time is addressing the opioid epidemic.”

About the National Opioid Misuse Community Assessment Tool

The National Opioid Misuse Community Assessment Tool is the first ever interactive data visualization of national county-level opioid overdose mortality rates. Developed by NORC at the University of Chicago and USDA Rural Development, the tool allows users to explore overdose mortality rate data, socioeconomic and demographic data, and how counties compare with others in that state and in the nation as a whole. The tool also allows users to create data overlays that show the association between overdose mortality rates and socioeconomic and demographic factors such as unemployment, poverty rate, disability, age, and gender, among others.

“The information we provide goes well beyond demonstrating the impact of opioid abuse in each state and across the nation,” said Michael Meit, co-director of the NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis and leader of NORC research conducted with the USDA. “We hope it will help policymakers and community leaders develop an informed response to the challenges they face by revealing underlying, systemic factors that also need to be addressed.”

National Implications

The National Opioid Misuse Community Assessment Tool demonstrates the utility of data visualization in support of community health planning and response. Future iterations of the tool will provide additional planning and response information, including a vulnerability index to help assess community risk factors, and an integrated resource page to link users to important information such as best practices and funding opportunities.

“While the current version of this tool provides important information to help local stakeholders assess the magnitude of the opioid crisis in their communities, we recognize the need to also provide tangible information that will aid them in their planning and response efforts,” said Meit. “We look forward to our continued work with USDA to provide tools and resources to help those communities address an issue that has become the public health crisis of our time.”

About USDA Rural Development

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas.

About NORC at the University of Chicago

NORC at the University of Chicago conducts research and analysis that decision-makers trust. As a nonpartisan research organization and a pioneer in measuring and understanding the world, we have studied almost every aspect of the human experience and every major news event for more than eight decades. Today, we partner with government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world to provide the objectivity and expertise necessary to inform the critical decisions facing society.

Contact: For more information, please contact Eric Young at NORC at or (703) 217-6814 (cell).