A Better Economy Won't Stop the Opioid Epidemic

A Better Economy Won't Stop the Opioid Epidemic
AP Photo/Patrick Sison

There's a common story told in the media about the opioid epidemic: In this telling, it's not a coincidence that many of the communities that have been hit hard by the drug overdose crisis happen to be Rust Belt and Appalachian towns that have seen jobs leave over the past few years. This economic hardship has fed what some have characterized as, borrowing a term from groundbreaking research by economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, “deaths of despair.”

A new working paper distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research, however, pushes back on this common story. Its central finding: Changing economic conditions explain less than 10 percent of the rise in drug overdose deaths between 1999, near the beginning of the opioid crisis, and 2015, the latest year with applicable data at the time of the study.

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