How Increasing Medical Access to Opioids Contributes to the Opioid Epidemic: Evidence from Medicare Part D

Drug overdoses involving opioid analgesics have increased dramatically since 1999, representing one of the United States’ top public health crises. Opioids have legitimate medical functions, but they are often diverted, suggesting a tradeoff between improving medical access and nonmedical abuse. We provide causal estimates of the relationship between the medical opioid supply and drug overdoses using Medicare Part D as a differential shock to the geographic distribution of opioids. Our estimates imply that a 10% increase in opioid medical supply leads to a 7.1% increase in opioid-related deaths among the Medicare-ineligible population, suggesting substantial diversion from medical markets.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND’s publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.

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