Catherine Maclean, Justine Mallatt, Christopher J. Ruhm, Kosali Simon, 20 December 2020

Opioid misuse in the US is estimated to cost over $500 billion annually, with fatalities from opioid overdoses exceeding the American death count from the Vietnam War. This column examines the causes and consequences of the opioid crisis, based on a review of more than 100 economic studies. Policies such as prescription drug monitoring programmes, pill mill laws, prescribing limits, and doctor-shopping laws reduce opioid prescribing. However, their effects may be more limited in environments where many have already become addicted to opioids. 

Rahi Abouk, Scott Adams, Bo Feng, Catherine Maclean, Michael Pesko, 11 October 2019

Since 2006, e-cigarettes have become increasingly popular among young people in the US. But a series of recent vaping-related illnesses have heightened concerns among critics, who do not see them as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. Against this backdrop of uncertainty, this column examines the effects of e-cigarette taxes on smoking outcomes in a particularly important group: pregnant women. Its primary findings are twofold: e-cigarette taxes increase traditional cigarette smoking among pregnant women, and do not appear to influence birth outcomes.

Robert Kaestner, Engy Ziedan, 26 September 2019

Since 1999, the US has experienced a three-fold rise in opioid prescriptions, a four-fold rise in prescription opioid-related mortality, and a ten-fold rise in non-prescription opioid deaths. In response, many states have enacted laws to monitor opioid-prescribing behaviour. This column finds little evidence that such laws have had significant effects on wellbeing or mortality. Recognising the grave risks associated with prescription opioids, the column also considers their benefits: the reduction in pain and consequent salutary effects associated with responsibly used prescription opioids. 

Carolina Lopez, Anja Sautmann, Simone Schaner, 29 January 2019

Healthcare systems around the world battle high rates of overtreatment. This column investigates the role of patient demand in this, using a randomised evaluation of malaria treatment at public health clinics in Mali. It finds no evidence of doctors attempting to increase treatment rates or intensity, instead heightened demand from patients sometimes pressured doctors into going against their own professional judgement and writing a prescription anyway. In such situations, interventions that make it easier for doctors to resist patient demands could help sustain subsidies and reduce overtreatment.

Jeffrey E. Harris, Mariana Gerstenblüth, Patricia Triunfo, 28 October 2018

The Surgeon General of the United States concluded in 1988 that the nicotine in cigarette smoke is an addictive drug. This column reports on an experiment which revealed that smokers, when confronted with warnings that were repugnant and threatening to many of them, could still make choices consistent with the widely accepted standard rules of rational choice. The model of the two-self economic man offers one explanation for how the participants could engage in such apparently rational behaviour in the face of their addiction.

CEPR Policy Research