WATCH: ‘Morning Joe’ panel explains how despair drives voters to heroin — and Trump
Morning Joe (Screenshot)

On today's Morning Joe, commentator Steven Rattner highlighted a Pennsylvania State study exploring the link between deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide and the election of Donald Trump. And no, it's not that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is on "heroin," Joe Scarborough made sure to point out.


The idea that economic despair in rural areas propelled Donald Trump to the Presidency and is fueling the country's opioid epidemic is not new: as Slate pointed out, it's been observed by reporters like Chris Arnade on the ground, who noted "Wherever I see hope exiting, I see Trump and drugs entering.”

But the study explored the concept more methodically, looking at regions with rising rates of "deaths of despair" and comparing voter turnout for Donald Trump and Mitt Romney. They found that areas suffering higher rates of drug and alcohol related deaths favored Donald Trump over Mitt Romney,  particularly in New England and the Industrial Midwest. Trump outperformed Romney in 79.5 percent of the counties with higher rates of drug and alcohol-related deaths than other counties in the region, according to the study.

Of course, the paper merely proves correlation—and perhaps turnout for Mitt Romney, who hardly stirred passion among non-wealthy voters, might not be the best measure for comparison. Still, researchers note a clear relationship between economic distress, drug and alcohol abuse, and Donald Trump's election.

"These findings reflect larger systemic economic and social problems that go far beyond drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. In many of the counties where Trump did the best, economic precarity has been building and social and family networks have been breaking down for several decades," the researcher notes.

It's not clear how Donald Trump plans to address these problems, but so far it doesn't look promising.

The President-elect is stacking his administration with veterans of Goldman Sacks, not the most obvious champions of rural America.  His drug policy platform appears limited to "build a wall" to keep out heroin—an odd strategy since the far deadlier opioid Fentanyl comes from China. Also, state-sanctioned murder: Trump has praised Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte, who unleashed literal death squads on alleged drug dealers and users.

Closer to home, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Trump's nominee to head the Department of Justice, is a hardened drug warrior who's still harping on marijuana. Sessions has also criticized bipartisan criminal justice reform, particularly clemency for nonviolent drug crimes—even though the drug war is as destabilizing to poor families and communities as addiction itself.

Watch the segment below: