A recently released paper by University of Virginia economist Christopher Ruhm rejects the notion that the opioid epidemic is the result of economic despair, and instead claims the crisis is the result of a rising supply of prescription drugs and an increasing supply of heroin.
Ruhm’s paper, entitled “Deaths of Despair or Drug Problems?,” stands in stark contrast to a 2017 paper by Princeton economists, which concluded that the opioid epidemic was largely due to deteriorating economic outlooks. Ruhm’s analysis instead suggests that the increasing death rate is due to an increased supply of “highly addictive opioids,” according to Quartz.
Ruhm posits that the main cause of this increase in supply is America’s changing drug environment, specifically the massive uptick in painkiller prescriptions and, more recently, illegal opioids such as heroin. According to Quartz, much of the heroin in the United States originates across the border in Mexico.
Instead of solving this issue through economics, Ruhm suggests that social programs will better tackle this crisis.
“Efforts to address the fatal drug epidemic will therefore probably have the largest impact if focused on such environmental factors, including primary prevention and treatment of drug problems once they emerge,” Ruhm concludes.