Rural counties in the United States have higher firearm suicide rates and opioid overdoses than urban counties. We sought to determine whether rural counties can be grouped based on these “diseases of despair.”
Age-adjusted firearm suicide death rates per 100,000; drug-related death rates per 100,000; homicide rate per 100,000, opioid prescribing rate, %black, %Native American, and %veteran population, median home price, violent crime rates per 100,000, primary economic dependency (nonspecialized, farming, mining, manufacturing, government, and recreation), and economic variables (low education, low employment, retirement destination, persistent poverty, and persistent child poverty) were obtained for all rural counties and evaluated with hierarchical clustering using complete linkage.
We identified five distinct rural county clusters. The firearm suicide rates in the clusters were 5.9, 6.8, 6.4, 8.5, and 3.8 per 100,000, respectively. The counties in cluster 1 were poor, mining dependent, with population loss, cluster 2 were nonspecialized economies, with high opioid prescription rates, cluster 3 were manufacturing and government economies with moderate unemployment, cluster 4 were recreational economies with substantial veterans and Native American populations, high median home price, drug death rates, opioid prescribing, and violent crime, and cluster 5 were farming economies, with high population loss, low median home price, low rates of drug mortality, opioid prescribing, and violent crime. Cluster 4 counties were spatially adjacent to urban counties.
More than 300 counties currently face a disproportionate burden of diseases of despair. Interventions to reduce firearm suicides should be community-based and include programs to reduce other diseases of despair.