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An E.R. Doc Learns the Economics of Street Drugs

An E.R. doctor in the Pacific Northwest who writes a blog called “Movin’ Meat” might seem an unlikely candidate to know the economics of street drugs. But since he treats overdoses, he’s learned quite a bit. Recently, he noticed a spike in novice heroin injectors right around the time that the supply of OxyContin got very tight. His patients told him that since the price of OxyContin had tripled (if you could find it at all), they made the switch to heroin. A self-professed econ fan, the doctor spins a bit of analysis as well:

If I were a clever, real economist, I might neatly package the conclusion along the lines of the demand for opiates being relatively inelastic, but the brand (?) sensitivity is low, and once the incidental costs of heroin (inconvenience, lower quality, abscesses, disease, visibility) became lower than the absolute cost of oxycontin, the market suddenly tilted. (That’s probably mostly gibberish, but it sounds economish.) As it is, I just shake my head at the sadness of it all and the seeming futility of interdiction as a strategy for dealing with drug abuse. Cut off one drug, and people switch to another, more harmful one. A funny sort of progress.

(HT: Aaron de Oliveira)