Economic Studies on the Opioid Crisis: A Review

44 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2020 Last revised: 13 May 2021

See all articles by Catherine Maclean

Catherine Maclean

Temple University

Justine Mallatt

Bureau of Economic Analysis, Office of the Chief Economist

Christopher J. Ruhm

University of Virginia - Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Kosali Ilayperuma Simon

Indiana University Bloomington - School of Public & Environmental Affairs (SPEA); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: November 2020

Abstract

The United States has experienced an unprecedented crisis related to the misuse of and addiction to opioids. As of 2018, 128 Americans die each day of an opioid overdose, and total economic costs associated with opioid misuse are estimated to be more than $500 billion annually. The crisis has evolved in three phases, starting in the 1990s and continuing through 2010 with a massive increase in use of prescribed opioids associated with lax prescribing regulations and aggressive marketing efforts by the pharmaceutical industry. A second phase included tightening restrictions on prescribed opioids, reformulation of some commonly misused prescription medications, and a shift to heroin consumption over the period 2010 to 2013. Since 2013, the third phase of the crisis has included a movement towards synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl, and a continued tightening of opioid prescribing regulations, along with the growth of both harm reduction and addiction treatment access policies.Economic research, using innovative frameworks, causal methods, and rich data, has added to our understanding of the causes and consequences of the crisis. This body of research also identifies intended and unintended impacts of policies designed to address the crisis. Although there is general agreement that the causes of the crisis include a combination of supply- and demand-side factors, and interactions between them, there is less consensus regarding the relative importance of each. Studies show that regulations can reduce opioid prescribing but may have less impact on root causes of the crisis and, in some cases, have spillover effects resulting in greater use of more harmful substances obtained in illicit markets, where regulation is less possible. There are effective opioid use disorder treatments available, but access, stigma, and cost hurdles have stifled utilization, resulting in a large degree of under-treatment in the U.S.How challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic may intersect with the opioid crisis is unclear. Emerging areas for future research include understanding how societal and healthcare systems disruptions affect opioid use, as well as which regulations and policies most effectively reduce potentially inappropriate prescription opioid use and illicit opioid sources without unintended negative consequences.

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Suggested Citation

Maclean, Catherine and Mallatt, Justine and Ruhm, Christopher J. and Simon, Kosali Ilayperuma, Economic Studies on the Opioid Crisis: A Review (November 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w28067, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3731239

Catherine Maclean (Contact Author)

Temple University ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

Justine Mallatt

Bureau of Economic Analysis, Office of the Chief Economist ( email )

1441 L Street NW
Washington, DC 20910
United States

Christopher J. Ruhm

University of Virginia - Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy ( email )

235 McCormick Rd.
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434-924-7581 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://batten.virginia.edu/cruhm.html

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

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Kosali Ilayperuma Simon

Indiana University Bloomington - School of Public & Environmental Affairs (SPEA) ( email )

1315 East Tenth Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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