David M. Cutler, Edward Glaeser, 12 July 2021

Over 90,000 Americans died from opioids in the year ending November 2020, bringing the death total since 1999 to over 850,000. This column argues that rather than rising demand for opioids for relief from pain or despair, it is supply-side innovations in the legal and illegal drug markets that have been the main driver of the opioid epidemic. The opioid cycle is a cautionary tale about how technological innovation can go terribly awry, and calls for more collective scepticism about innovations that allegedly cleanse pleasure-inducing drugs of their addictive properties as well as stronger penalties for companies that mislead the public about the risks of their products.

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