Stanford University


What Drives Prescription Opioid Abuse? Evidence from Migration

Matthew Gentzkow
Dean Li
Amy Finkelstein
Heidi Williams

August 2021

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We investigate the role of person- and place-specific factors in the opioid epidemic by developing and estimating a dynamic model of prescription opioid abuse. We estimate the model using the relationship between cross-state migration and prescription opioid abuse among adults receiving federal disability insurance from 2006 to 2015. Event studies suggest that moving to a state with a 3.5 percentage point higher rate of opioid abuse (roughly the difference between the 20th and 80th percentile states) increases the probability of abuse by 1 percentage point on-impact, followed by an additional increase of 0.30 percentage points per subsequent year. Model estimates imply large place effects in both the likelihood of transitioning to addiction and the availability of prescription opioids to the addicted. Equalizing place-based factors would have reduced the geographic variation in opioid abuse by about 50 percent over our 10-year study period. Reducing place effects on addiction transitions to the 25th percentile would have twice the impact on opioid abuse after 10 years as the analogous reduction in place effects on availability to addicts, though the comparison is reversed in the first few years.

Stanford University