NBER Paper Disputes Opioid Addiction Link to Economic Despair

A new NBER paper disputes that opioid addiction has risen because of economic despair. Instead, the study finds:  

Counties experiencing relative economic decline did experience higher growth in drug mortality than those with more robust growth, but the relationship is weak and mostly explained by confounding factors. In the preferred estimates, changes in economic conditions account for less than one-tenth of the rise in drug and opioid-involved mortality rates. The contribution of economic factors is even less when accounting for plausible selection on unobservables, with even a small amount of remaining confounding factors being sufficient to entirely eliminate the relationship. These results suggest that the “deaths of despair” framing, while provocative, is unlikely to explain the main sources of the fatal drug epidemic.”

 http://www.nber.org/papers/w24188