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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.
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.