A Behavioral Economic Analysis of Polydrug Abuse in Heroin Addicts

Nancy M. Petry, Warren K. Bickel

NBER Working Paper No. 6415
Issued in February 1998
NBER Program(s):Health Economics

Polydrug abuse is common among substance abusers, but few empirical or theoretical methods accurately characterize this phenomenon. This chapter describes a simulation paradigm that was developed to apply a behavioral economic analysis to understanding polydrug abuse. Heroin abusers 'purchased' drugs as the price of drugs or income varied. In Experiment 1, heroin price rose while prices of other drugs and income remained constant. Heroin purchases significantly decreased as heroin prices increased. As price of heroin rose, valium and cocaine purchases increased and cross-price elasticity coefficients indicated these drugs substituted for heroin. In Experiment 2, prices of both heroin and valium increased separately to determine symmetry of the substitution effect. While valium substituted for heroin, heroin purchases were independent of valium prices. Marijuana and alcohol purchases were independent of valium price, but both these drugs were weak substitutes for heroin. In Experiment 3, income rose while prices remained constant. At some changes in income, demand for heroin and cocaine was income elastic, with purchases rising in greater proportion than income. Marijuana, alcohol, and valium purchases did not vary significantly as a function of income. Choices in this simulation were reliable both between and within subjects. Moreover, drug choices in the simulation were correlated with drug use as determined by urinanalysis testing. These results are discussed in terms of the utility of a behavioral economics approach for characterizing polydrug abuse.

download in pdf format
   (1525 K)

email paper

The NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health provides summaries of publications like this.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Bulletin on Aging and Health by email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w6415


Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Petry and Bickel A Behavioral Economic Analysis of Polydrug Abuse in Heroin Addicts
Chaloupka, Grossman, Bickel, and Saffer Introduction to "The Economic Analysis of Substance Use and Abuse: An Integration of Econometrics and Behavioral Economic Research"
Dave w10619 The Effects of Cocaine and Heroin Prices on Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits
Bickel and Madden w6444 The Behavioral Economics of Smoking
Higgins Applying Behavioral Economics to the Challenge of Reducing Cocaine Abuse
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us