AIMS: The addiction sciences are intrinsically multi-disciplinary, and economics is among the disciplines that offer useful perspectives on the complex behaviors surrounding substance abuse. This paper summarizes contributions economics has made in the past and could make in the future towards understanding how illegal markets operate, how prices affect use, how use generates various consequences, and how policy shapes all three. METHODS: Review of literature, concentrating on illegal drugs as insights concerning markets are particularly salient, although we also mention relevant studies from the alcohol and tobacco fields. FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS: Economics offers tools and topical expertise that usefully complement other disciplines associated traditionally with the addiction sciences. Its value goes far beyond the ability to monetize non-monetary outcomes or to calculate a cost-benefit ratio.
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