Economic Conditions, Illicit Drug Use, and Substance Use Disorders in the United States
40 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2016 Last revised: 7 Oct 2021
Date Written: February 2016
We provide the first analysis of the relationship between economic conditions and the use of illicit drugs other than marijuana. Drawing on US data from 2002-2013, we find mixed evidence with regard to the cyclicality of illicit drug use. However, there is strong evidence that economic downturns lead to increases in substance use disorders involving hallucinogens and prescription pain relievers. These effects are robust to a variety of specification choices and are concentrated among prime-age white males with low educational attainment. We conclude that the returns to spending on the treatment of substance use disorders are particularly high during economic downturns.
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