Here are some sobering facts: In the United States, drug-induced mortality has become the leading cause of death due to external causes, surpassing car accidents. In fact, since 1999, the rate of drug overdose deaths has more than tripled, due in part to the huge spike in opioid use. And despite all this, access to drug-treatment facilities is limited. Are these truths linked? That is the question the Department of Economics professor Jason Lindo and team tackled in their paper, “Access to Substance Abuse Treatment, Drug Overdose Deaths, and Crime.”
“The idea of this paper is to try to document how having more substance abuse treatment facilities in any given county impacts the rates of drug-induced mortality and crime,” said Lindo, whose team also included one of his economics Ph.D. candidate Samuel R. Bondurant and Isaac D. Swenson from Montana State University. “This research shows the cost-benefits analysis is in favor of investing in these facilities.”
For their paper, Lindo and his team looked at data from drug treatment facilities in every county in America from 1999-2012 to find the link between their openings and closings to the change in level of drug-related deaths and crime rates. Their research shows that as these facilities close, drug-related mortality and crime rates increase, usually after a year. Lindo and his team hope to convince policy makers to invest in more drug-treatment facilities, as the cost of having them is less than the community cost of crime and drug-related deaths.
“We’ve tried so many things to combat drug abuse and crime in this country, and the evidence suggests that what we’ve done isn’t working—particularly the supply-side policies where we’re tough on crime and target drug traffickers,” Lindo said. “In this case we’ve identified what appears to be an effective way of reducing drug-related mortality and suggests that we should be shifting more resources to these facilities.”
As economists, Lindo feels he and his peers are uniquely equipped to sort through and interpret the data on this and other public policy issues.
“What differentiates an economist’s approach to research and the approaches in other disciplines is that we really try to make the case that our estimates reflect the causal effect. We’re going beyond correlation,” Lindo said. “We have a toolkit that allows us to estimate the causal effects in a convincing and rigorous way.”
And with the opioid crisis having recently been declared a national emergency, this research is more important than ever.
“The most important thing with this research is to have some convincing estimates that could inform policy,” Lindo said.
This story by Heather Rodriguez originally appeared on the College of Liberal Arts website.