The opioid epidemic has been ongoing for over 20 years in the United States. As opioid misuse has shifted increasingly toward injection of illicitly produced opioids, it has been associated with HIV and hepatitis C transmission. These epidemics interact to form the opioid syndemic.
We obtain annual county-level counts of opioid overdose deaths, treatment admissions for opioid misuse, and newly diagnosed cases of acute and chronic hepatitis C and newly diagnosed HIV from 2014 to 2019. Aligned with the conceptual framework of syndemics, we develop a dynamic spatial factor model to describe the opioid syndemic for counties in Ohio and estimate the complex synergies between each of the epidemics.
We estimate three latent factors characterizing variation of the syndemic across space and time. The first factor reflects overall burden and is greatest in southern Ohio. The second factor describes harms and is greatest in urban counties. The third factor highlights counties with higher than expected hepatitis C rates and lower than expected HIV rates, which suggests elevated localized risk for future HIV outbreaks.
Through the estimation of dynamic spatial factors, we are able to estimate the complex dependencies and characterize the synergy across outcomes that underlie the syndemic. The latent factors summarize shared variation across multiple spatial time series and provide new insights into the relationships between the epidemics within the syndemic. Our framework provides a coherent approach for synthesizing complex interactions and estimating underlying sources of variation that can be applied to other syndemics.