Talk title: Combining Social Capital and Geospatial Analysis to measure the Boston’s Opioid Epidemic


Cordula Robinson, Francesca Grippa Ph.D., Earlene Avalon and Michael Wood

Talk abstract:

Social support is considered an important factor in the recovery of individuals who abuse drugs, though traditional drug treatment interventions have mainly focused on the individual without taking into account the social and environmental conditions that may support or reduce continued drug use. By combining the social capital framework proposed by Aldrich and Kyne (2018) with geospatial research methodologies, we mapped opioid resilience of a community by focusing on the Boston
neighborhoods. By conducting a spatial correlation analysis and a Geographically Weighted Regression (GWR) we found that in areas where social capital is low, there is a moderately high incidence of opioid deaths and sick assist calls (many hot spots and few cold spots).
The presence of cold spots and very few hot spots in open space areas suggest relatively low opioid activity in the city parks. Overall, this study indicates that a community’s resilience to the opioid crisis can be measured by its level of social capital, by differentiating between bonding, bridging and linking social capital. Recommendations include developing initiatives to reduce social stigma and provide empowerment opportunities for the addicted individual.
Our analysis shows that in neighborhoods where residents are involved in charitable organizations, where people gather around religious organizations, or where unions are more active, people help each other more and might be aware of actions to take to prevent opioid-related deaths. Individuals living in a neighborhood where there are more churches or civic organizations might be more likely to receive support when they are struggling because of the community propensity to help and be more outward focused.
Charitable or religious organizations might act as catalysts for building social support, as educators, as institutions where people gather to find solutions to community and individual problems, or where people whose strong ties have deteriorated because of geographic distance, can find support and first aid. Given the importance of the bridging social capital, we would recommend the development of initiatives and incentive to build synergies among civic and religious organizations that can act as immediate social support system when strong ties (i.e. bonding social capital) become unavailable.
In areas such as “Methadone Mile”, Downtown and East Boston we see a high concentration of opioid incidents, as well as medium levels of bonding social capital, and low levels of bridging social capital. In these areas residents share fewer socio-demographics characteristics, and seem to be less involved in charitable, religious or civic organizations. As demonstrated by studies in the African American and Latino communities (McNeal & Perkins, 2007; Derose et al., 2014) church-based interventions have the potential to yield HIV stigma reduction. Fighting the opioid crisis requires a community-based approach, by developing partnerships with local institutions
and organizations and investing in building opportunities to support individuals who have lost their family/friend/connections. Tailoring intervention to single race-ethnic groups may not be the best approach in diverse community settings, which are common among various Boston neighborhood.