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Statistics Senior Thesis Defense by Joseph LaRocca ’22

Tue, May 17th, 2022
1:10 pm
- 1:50 pm

Homophily, Assimilation, and Drug Use in Rural Eastern Kentucky: An Analysis Using Stochastic Actor-Oriented Models by Joseph LaRocca ’22, Statistics Senior Thesis Defense, Tuesday, May 17, 1:10 – 1:50 pm, North Science Building 017, Wachenheim.

Abstract:  The United States is currently in the midst of a nationwide drug use epidemic; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that nearly 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2020 alone.  There is a growing interest in the connection between drug use and social networks, particularly how social network factors can influence drug use cessation.  We sought to investigate the co-evolution of a network and several drug use behaviors from the longitudinal Social Networks among Appalachian People (SNAP) dataset, which contains five observations of 503 individuals, all of whom used drugs at the beginning of the study, over a two-year period.  More specifically, we examined the relationship between drug, sex, and social support ties within the SNAP network and the participants’ use of injection drugs, heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine, and illegal prescription opiates, with a specific interest in identifying whether homophily (the tendency to create or maintain network ties with those who exhibit similar behavior) or assimilation (the tendency to adjust one’s behavior to that of one’s network ties) was at play with respect to each type of drug.  This thesis rigorously explores the methodology of stochastic actor-oriented models (SAOMs), which use social networks and behaviors, such as drug use, as jointly dependent variables mutually influencing one another, and uses SAOMs to investigate homophily and assimilation within the SNAP network.  Using four separate SAOMs, we found very strong evidence of homophily and assimilation with respect to injection drug use and moderately strong evidence of assimilation with respect to methamphetamine/cocaine use, but did not find any other significant evidence of either effect.  Therefore, we concluded that within the SNAP network, there is a particularly strong connection between network factors and injection drug use when compared to other types of drug use.  Given that those who inject drugs often do so via needle sharing, it makes theoretical sense that injection drug use is a particularly social method of drug use and therefore, that in the SNAP network, homophily and assimilation are most strongly at play with respect to injection drug use.

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