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Smoking and opioid abuse affect local health outcomes

by MACKENZI KLEMANN - mklemann@wabashplaindealer.com

A new survey ranks Wabash County 52 out of Indiana’s 92 counties in overall health outcomes related to tobacco use, opioid abuse, obesity and infant mortality.

Seventeen percent of adults in Wabash County are smokers, compared to 21 percent in Indiana and 15 percent in the U.S. The prenatal smoking rate here is much higher at 25.2 percent, compared to 15.1 percent statewide and just 8.4 percent nationally, according to the survey.

“We’re one of those states that has a substantially higher rate of smoking during pregnancy,” said Dr. Paul Halverston, dean and professor of the Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health. “Tobacco has a potentially harmful effect on the growing baby by reducing the nutrients going to the baby during critical growth periods. It impacts the oxygenation of the mother, which ultimately impacts the baby.”

Halverston said that smoking during pregnancy often leads to low birth weight and premature birth, which is associated with a number of health complications.

Why is prenatal smoking so common here? Halverston says that misconceptions about the dangers of smoking during pregnancy, particularly among teenagers, may be one reason. He says the high rate of smoking here in general may be another.

The survey found a high rate of non-fatal ER visits and opioid prescriptions here, too.

Halverston said researchers are finding that smokers have a higher rate of opioid misuse and that efforts to curb tobacco use among youth may help address opioid abuse more generally.

The survey was released by the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, a group comprised of health and business organizations like the Indiana Hospital Association and Indiana Chamber of Commerce. The report highlights Indiana’s high smoking rate as a major cause for concern, but the Indianapolis Business Journal reports that the group is also supporting legislation that would repeal legal protections for smokers.

The Journal reports that GOP state Sen. Liz Brown has introduced a bill that would allow businesses to adopt strict smoking policies that screen new hires for tobacco use to keep health insurance costs down.