Taxpayers Fund ‘Study’ Linking Trump Support to Opioid Abuse

President Donald Trump speaks about his plan to combat opioid drug addiction at Manchester
AP Photo/Elise Amendola

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has concluded that “chronic use of prescription opioid drugs was correlated with support for the Republican candidate in the 2016 US presidential election.”

Researchers led by principal investigator James S. Goodwin, M.D., the George and Cynthia Mitchell distinguished chair of geriatric medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, set out to answer the question “To what extent do socioeconomic measurements explain the county-level association of the 2016 US Republican presidential vote with opioid use?”

Using a national sample of Medicare claims data, the researchers observed:

Counties and states with the highest opioid use were often areas carried by the Republican candidate in the election. This is not surprising, because aspects of the narrative analyzing the presidential vote echoed themes that occur in explanations for high opioid use.

The authors drew the conclusion that support for Trump “is a marker for physical conditions, economic circumstances, and cultural forces associated with opioid use.”

“The findings of this study add to the emerging literature on the relationship between health status and support of Donald Trump in the 2016 election,” they write.

The paper has drawn criticism from various physicians and groups regarding its political motivation and the fact that it was funded by a grant from NIH for cancer research.

Dr. James P. Murphy, a Kentucky physician who is past president of the Greater Louisville Medical Society, tweeted about the paper, “Seriously, is this a practical joke?”:

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) called out NIH for diverting taxpayer funds for potential cancer research to politically motivated, anti-Trump research:

Similarly, a blog post at the website of Independent Physicians for Patient Independence (IP4PI), a group of doctors who support the elimination of government and health insurance interference in patient care, observed:

The venerable Journal of the American Medical Association is out with a new NIH-funded “original investigation.” What medical breakthroughs are being announced do you ask? Not. A. Single. One. Instead JAMA has published a “study” the authors tout as “adding to the emerging literature on the relationship between health status and support of Donald Trump in the 2016 election.”

You read that right. Trump supporters are more likely to abuse drugs, according to Dr. Goodwin and his colleagues. However, reading through the article, it becomes clear that the boldness of their claim is inversely proportional to the strength of the evidence backing it up.

It’s bad enough that the researchers are digging through and torturing medical data (statistically) for a political purpose. It’s equally bad that the patient data was used without any informed consent (because the data is “de-identified” don’t ya know).

What’s worse? A source of funding for this junk science appears to be a taxpayer funded NIH grant ostensibly for cancer prevention and control.

Left-wing media touted the study’s results.

“Regions with Highest Opioid Use Strongly Backed Trump In 2016, Study Finds” was the headline HuffPost reported. “In 693 counties with ‘significantly higher’ than average rates of opioid prescriptions, Trump won about 60 percent of the vote.”

“Medicare data indicate that voters in areas that went for Trump weren’t just hurting economically — many of them were receiving prescriptions for opioid painkillers,” said National Public Radio (NPR).

In an interview with NPR, Goodwin said that, in reviewing places hardest hit by opioid abuse and those with strong Trump support, “there was a clear overlap between counties that had high opioid use … and the vote for Donald Trump.”

“There were blogs from various people saying there was this overlap,” Goodwin added. “But we had national data.”

However, when Breitbart News questioned Goodwin about the use of NIH cancer research funding for the study and its purpose, he said in an email conversation that the study was “misunderstood.”

“Several individuals had already shown the correlation between the 2016 presidential vote and various health indicators, like opioid use, or mortality rates,” he said and added, “What some of reporters were doing was saying people who take opioids voted for Trump. That is a fundamental misinterpretation of our findings. What we showed was that people who lived in areas affected by the opioid epidemic (as indicated by high opioid use) voted for Trump. An analogy would be if someone reported that people who live in high crime areas voted for the “law and order” candidate for sheriff. That doesn’t mean the criminals voted for the law and order candidate. Using that kind of ecologic analysis (the term for looking at traits by area, not individual levels) can NEVER say anything about the characteristics of individuals.”

Goodwin did not address Breitbart News’s questions about the NIH funding for the study coming from a grant for cancer research.

When Breitbart News reached out to NIH, however, with the same questions, the agency’s media staff responded that one of the grants funding the paper supports “training and career development,” grants which “are crucial to sustaining an infrastructure of qualified researchers in the United States.”

Regarding the other grant the researchers for the paper cited, NIH replied, “[U]ses 2007-2015 national data on Medicare beneficiaries to examine three things: (1) temporal changes in the prevalence, duration, and dose of opioid use in older adults; (2) variation of opioid use across providers and patient and provider factors associated with opioid use in older adults; (3) the risk of adverse outcomes including falls, fractures, emergency room visits, hospitalization, institutionalization, and mortality in older patients receiving opioids.”

“The grant allows for the principal investigators to use the data to examine multiple factors related to opioid prescribing,” NIH said.

NIH media staff did not respond to Breitbart News’s follow-up questions regarding potential improvements to public policy and clinical practice that could be expected from such a study and why NIH thinks the subject is worthy of American taxpayer dollars.

Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), told Breitbart News the “study” is “really a data-mining operation” that “is primarily evidence of how political the AMA and research establishment have become.”

“It has nothing conceivable to do with cancer and suggests that people taking chronic opioids are more likely to be Trump voters,” she said. “However, there is no way to connect how an individual voted with his drug usage.”

“The authors seem to assume that chronic opioid use has some correlation with political views – how about with chronic pain?” Orient asked. “Deaths in someone with an opioid prescription may be attributed to the prescription drug but may actually be due to abuse of alcohol or illicit drugs – so it is likely incorrect to say that prescription drug use accounts for half the overdose deaths–a major fallacy.”

A recent article at Conservative Review, in fact, observed that heroin and fentanyl were causing the U.S. crisis:

[T]he supply and dangerous nature of the drugs coming into this country from Mexico (or from China and then distributed by the Mexican cartels) since 2013-2014 are at an epidemic level, dwarfing anything we’ve seen before. It all began with the suspension of immigration enforcement from 2010-2014 and suspension of interior enforcement.

“Whether you support Trump or not, there’s no debate over this: the diversion of cancer research funds for political purposes is bad for patients,” states IP4PI. “In addition, it is improper to use health crises like the opioid epidemic in this manner. The NIH should demand that the taxpayer dollars spent on this ‘study’ be returned.”


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