Opioid epidemic part of broader public health challenges

Since the 2016 presidential election, Katherine Swartz, adjunct professor of health policy and economics at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has been working with Harvard University colleague Theda Skocpol on the Eight Counties Project, a research group focused on four swing states—North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Skocpol, the group’s leader and Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology, has met with community leaders and groups in eight counties in these states to get a sense of how they’ve been impacted by recent changes in national politics. Swartz’s focus has been on meeting with healthcare providers, community health organizations, and foundations that provide healthcare funding.

She said in a May 4, 2020 Harvard Gazette article that her field interviews gave her a new appreciation for the work of local public health departments—and for the benefits to research of talking to people face-to-face.

Also, from her work, Swartz said she now sees the opioid epidemic as part of a broader set of public health challenges related to mental health and disparities in treatment options for people with substance use disorders. “Those disparities are tied to the funding uncertainties from the federal government, which in turn affects state Medicaid programs,” she said. “Together these things are having a real disruptive effect on these communities.”

Read the Harvard Gazette article: Is rural America solidly red? Not exactly, Harvard scholars say