how to fix the opioid epidemic: part 1

In the USA, we have created an opioid epidemic. Regardless of who you blame, we need to fix this mess.  There is a really great book written by a writer for The Economist called Narconomics .  Basically, it approaches the cartels as businesses selling products to consumers.  Once you start thinking about the opioid epidemic from this perspetive,  you begin to see sensible things that work.

The author makes four suggestions:

  • focus on  decreasing demand, not supply of opioids
  • spend on prevention and rehab, not enforcement
  • governments need to cooperate not shift the blame
  • prohibition does not work

All of these points work together.


First, let’s look at our failed Drug War.  It is really easy to tell everybody that they are ok but that criminals take drugs and more criminals sell it to them. So we put the criminals here in jail and tell the criminals there to stop the supply of drugs.  How’s that approach been working, guys?

The less expensive approach is to invest in prevention, rehab and treatment. This helps users, their families, and their communities by removing the need to steal money to buy drugs.  Because  users no longer need to deal drugs to their friends and family to support their own habits, demand for illegal drugs goes down. Sellers  dont need to sell anymore so they just don’t order the next week’s supply of heroin from their wholesaler. Look at Switzerland for the game book.

Federal spending and resources need to be redirected from expensive, ineffective, and harmful enforcement towards prevention and rehab. We are talking about ten times the benefit per dollar spent. Fiscal conservatives please pay attention !  If you hired some guys to clean your house and they charged $500 and trashed your house, maybe think of hiring another team which will charge you $50 and make your house look brand new. Just an idea…

Next post: the economics of illegal opioids, or why the policing approach is a waste of time.