No state's residents are as likely to use drugs or medication to alter their mood as frequently as residents of West Virginia, according to new research from Gallup. That fits a certain stereotype -- a stereotype which itself doesn't really match the state. Then an unexpected twist: The state that's second-most likely to report that it using mood-altering drugs daily is Rhode Island -- which is nearly as different a state as you might imagine. So what gives?
As you can see from the map above, there's not a clear pattern. States in the Southeast seem to be more likely to report frequent drug and medication use (including cigarette smoking), but not uniformly. Out West, they seem less likely to, except Oregon.
This being The Fix, I first plotted the usage data against 2012 election results (yolo, etc.). The thing that jumps out the most is that West Virginia and Rhode Island are on near opposite sides of his graph. There's really no correlation between politics and drug use, although, perhaps surprisingly, more liberal states have slightly lower percentages of people reporting daily usage. (Near the bottom of the rankings: California and Colorado. You figure that out.)
Thinking back to the stereotype above, I plotted against the percentage of the state's population that is rural. Still no strong correlation -- and still Rhode Island and West Virginia are on opposite sides of the graph.
Given the inclusion of medication in Gallup's questions, I looked at the state's median age. This was a slightly closer fit, with the strongest correlation of the three. What's more, Rhode Island and West Virginia have at least that in common: An older-than-average population.
But it's still not clearly linked. I considered unemployment levels and poverty levels as well; but Rhode Island and West Virginia again weren't very close.
Gallup offers only a loose explanation, noting that states which rate high on its index of well-being tend to use drugs and medication to relax less frequently. Why that well-being is presumably lower in two very different states is, it seems, a mystery.