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Is the opioid crisis mainly a story of ‘late capitalism’ or something more complicated?

December 02, 2019 / JAMES PETHOKOUKIS

For capitalism’s critics, the opioid crisis is a powerful witness for the prosecution. They charge that inequality, stagnant wages, immobility, job loss — the four horsemen of the neoliberalism endgame — have generated a massive surge in “deaths of despair,” especially from overdoses of opioid drugs. Case closed. But a new NBER working paper “Origins of the Opioid Crisis and Its Enduring Impacts” suggests a different theory of the case, one that focuses on a supply rather than demand explanation.  So how big an impact did state-based prescription policy make? The paper’s findings suggest that “if non-triplicate states had the same initial level of exposure to OxyContin as triplicate states, they would have had 36 percent fewer drug overdose deaths and 44 percent fewer opioid overdose deaths on average in each year from 1996-2017.” Moreover, a rough calculation 65 percent of the dramatic growth in drug overdose deaths can be accounted for by the introduction and marketing of OxyContin.