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Can Policy Affect Initiation of Addictive Substance Use? Evidence from Opioid Prescribing

Daniel W. Sacks, Alex Hollingsworth, Thuy D. Nguyen, Kosali I. Simon

NBER Working Paper No. 25974
Issued in June 2019
NBER Program(s):Health Care, Health Economics

Drug control policy can have unintended consequences by pushing existing users to alternative, possibly more dangerous substances. Policies that target only new users may therefore be especially promising. Using commercial insurance claims data, we provide the first evidence on a set of new policies intended to reduce opioid initiation in the form of limits on initial prescription length. We also provide the first evidence on the impact of must-access prescription drug monitoring programs (MA-PDMPs), laws that do not target new users, on initial opioid use. Although initial limit policies reduce the average length of initial prescriptions, they do so primarily by raising the frequency of short prescriptions, resulting in increases in opioids dispensed to new users. In contrast, we find that MA-PDMPs reduce opioids dispensed to new users, even though they do not explicitly set out to do so. Neither policy significantly affects extreme use such as doctor shopping among new patients, because such behavior is very rare.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25974

 
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