March 8, 2018

MEGAN MCCARDLE: The ‘moral hazard’ of naloxone in the opioid crisis.

A chemical called naloxone acts as an “opioid antagonist” — which is to say, it reverses the drug’s effects on the body. It can thus save people who have overdosed.

As opioid usage has worsened in the United States, more and more jurisdictions have acted to increase access to naloxone. Not only first responders but also friends, family and even librarians have started to administer it. These state laws were passed at different times, giving researchers Jennifer Doleac and Anita Mukherjee a sort of a natural experiment: They could look at what happened to overdoses in areas that liberalized naloxone access and compare the trends there to places that hadn’t changed their laws.

Their results are grim, to say the least: “We find that broadening Naloxone access led to more opioid-related emergency room visits and more opioid-related theft, with no reduction in opioid-related mortality.”

You can never assume that the results of one study, however well done, are correct. But these results look pretty robust. If they hold up, they would mean that naloxone is not saving lives; all we’re doing is spending a lot of money on naloxone to generate some increase in crime.

Sad, but not shocking.