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New Data Visualization Tool Enables In-Depth, County-by-County Look at Impact of Opioid Epidemic in Appalachian Region

Press Release

Immediate Release: Contact: Eric Young,, (703) 217-6814 (cell); or Wendy Wasserman,, (202) 884-7771.

  • The Appalachian Overdose Mapping Tool illustrates the relationship in each Appalachian county between overdose deaths and socioeconomic factors, including poverty, unemployment, education, and disability
  • Unique resource focusing on Appalachia provided by NORC at the University of Chicago and the Appalachian Regional Commission
  • Tool informs efforts to address the regional opioid epidemic

CHICAGO, March 20, 2018 — Today, NORC at the University of Chicago and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) released the Appalachian Overdose Mapping Tool, a data visualization tool illustrating the impact of the opioid epidemic in the Appalachian Region and its relation to socioeconomic factors such as unemployment, poverty, education, and disability.

The Appalachian Overdose Mapping Tool integrates overdose mortality rates for each Appalachian county with data on unemployment, poverty, and disability, as well as other socioeconomic variables. Users can compare county-level information with regional and national data and see changes in the data between 2006–2010 and 2011–2015. The mapping tool can also generate fact sheets to assist in community planning and response efforts.

The Appalachian Overdose Mapping Tool was developed by NORC at the University of Chicago, an objective, non-partisan research institution, responsible for many of the most significant research, evaluation, and survey projects done for agencies of the federal government, states, and foundations. The project was done in collaboration with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments in the Appalachian Region. In August 2017, NORC’s Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis, which also participated in developing the mapping tool, produced a report for ARC titled Appalachian Diseases of Despair which reveals the extent of mortality rates in Appalachia due to alcoholic liver disease, overdose, and suicide. The study found that in 2015, overdose-related mortality rates for Appalachia’s 25-44-year-old age group—those in their prime working years—were more than 70 percent higher than for the same age group in the country’s non-Appalachian areas.

“The Appalachian Region has been taking a disproportionate hit in overdose deaths in relation to the rest of the country,” said ARC executive director Scott T. Hamilton. “This tool puts overdose statistics in socioeconomic context, which can be valuable to communities developing comprehensive strategies to address the epidemic.”

The Appalachian Overdose Mapping Tool is available through both the NORC and ARC websites.

“While addressing opioid abuse is a national challenge, much of the solution lies at the local level.”

Dan Gaylin


“While addressing opioid abuse is a national challenge, much of the solution lies at the local level.”

About the Appalachian Overdose Mapping Tool

The Appalachian Overdose Mapping Tool’s home screen displays a map of the Appalachian Region, which includes 420 counties spanning 13 states from northern Mississippi to southern New York. Moving the cursor over a county will show overdose mortality rate information, and one click will then create a data fact sheet with information about the county, overdose mortality data, socioeconomic and demographic data, and how the county compares with the entire Appalachian Region and the nation as a whole. Using the map view, users can create data overlays that show correlations between overdose mortality rates and socioeconomic and demographic factors such as unemployment, poverty, disability, and age, among others. A few examples include:

  • In Central Appalachia, counties with the highest rates of overdose are often the same counties with the highest rates of people on disability.
  • In Central Appalachia, the counties with the highest overdose rates are often the same counties with the lowest rates of educational attainment.
  • In Northern and Southern Appalachia, the highest overdose rates are in urban counties.
  • While Central Appalachia remains the most highly affected subregion of Appalachia, other subregions are experiencing increasing rates of overdose.
  • “The information we provide goes well beyond demonstrating the impact of opioid abuse in the Appalachian Region,” said Michael Meit, co-director of the NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis and leader of the NORC research conducted for ARC. “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 Appalachian Overdose Mapping Tool demonstrates the utility of data visualization in support of community health planning and response. While the tool is currently focused on overdose deaths in Appalachia, it has broad implications for understanding the relationship between socioeconomic factors and overdose, as well as for other public health issues.

“While this tool looks at overdose deaths, we would expect to see similar patterns related to any number of health and social issues such as violence, heart disease, suicide, and more,” said Meit. “We can look at any health outcome and overlay demographic and socioeconomic factors to show important issues that may underlie and explain how the conditions play out at the community level. This, in turn, can help create a community-level dialogue to stimulate local planning to mitigate and address these factors.”

Meit said he believes policymakers and community leaders throughout the nation will have an interest in how the tool can be used to address the nationwide crisis of opioid abuse, and he hopes its application and relevance to other public health issues will be recognized as well.

About the Appalachian Regional Commission

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the Region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.

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).


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