Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Origins of the Opioid Crisis Reexamined


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In an article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics titled “Origins of the Opioid Crisis and Its Enduring Impacts,” Abby Alpert, William Evans, Ethan Lieber, and David Powell investigate the cause of the origins and persistence of the opioid crisis. Alpert, Evans, Lieber, and Powell suggest that “the introduction of OxyContin explains 79% of the rise in the overdose death rate since 1996.” In this article, I discuss several conceptual and empirical problems with the article that render the evidence in it largely uninformative about the role of OxyContin in the opioid epidemic. I believe that it is reasonable to think that the introduction and marketing of OxyContin accounts for some percentage of the increase in deaths from opioids, but only as part of the broad increase in all prescription opioids that occurred from 1991 to 2012.

The commented-on authors were given very little time to reply concurrently and are welcome to reply in a future issue.