Disentangling opioids-related overdose syndemics: A scoping review


This article reviews research investigating the synergistic interaction of opioid-related morbidity and mortality with other social, psychiatric, and biological conditions, to describe how and why it is syndemic. Opioid-related overdose syndemics are driven by commercial interests, emerging in communities facing social and economic disadvantage, and interacting with a range of other health conditions. We included articles that empirically investigated an opioid-related syndemic, discussed syndemic co-factors associated with opioid use, or framed opioid consumption conceptually in relation to syndemics. Most articles were conducted in and first authored by investigators from North America. These articles were published in journals focused on general public health (n = 20), drug use and addiction (n = 18), and infectious disease or HIV (n = 15). Most original research articles (n = 60) employed quantitative methods. Unlike scholarship from other disciplines, specifically the controversial “Deaths of Despair” (DoD) framework, most research on opioid-related overdose syndemics fails to fully articulate the macro-structural drivers of localized disease clustering. Instead, the syndemics scholarship emphasizes the clinical manifestations of opioid and substance use, illustrating a problem in translation at the heart of syndemic theory. Moreover, syndemics scholarship on opioid impacts remains largely disconnected from the wider DoD discourse, which represents a missed opportunity for equity-oriented research. Re-directing attention to the sociopolitical forces that shape opioid-related overdose syndemics is necessary to prevent future commercially-driven health crises and repair lives harmed by these deadly syndemics.


Lang J, Mendenhall E, Koon AD




  • Population(s)
    • General HIV- population
  • Substance Use
    • Nonmedicinal drugs


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