Supply-Side Drug Policy in the Presence of Substitutes

Evidence from the Introduction of Abuse-Deterrent Opioids

Published in: American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, Volume 10, Number 4 (November 2018), Pages 1-35. doi:10.1257/pol.20170082

Posted on RAND.org on October 31, 2018

by Abby Alpert, David Powell, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula

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Overdose deaths from prescription opioid pain relievers nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. We study the consequences of one of the largest supply disruptions to date to abusable opioids—the introduction of an abuse-deterrent version of OxyContin in 2010. Supply-side interventions which limit access to opioids may have the unintended consequence of increasing use of substitute drugs, including heroin. Exploiting cross-state variation in OxyContin exposure, we find that states with the highest initial rates of OxyContin misuse experienced the largest increases in heroin deaths. Our results imply that the recent heroin epidemic is largely due to the reformulation of OxyContin.

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