Study Finds Opioid Laws Don't Curb Opioid Addiction In Most Vulnerable Populations

Jun 23, 2016

A joint study by the Dartmouth Institute of Health Policy and Clinical Practice and the UCLA School of Law casts doubt on the effectiveness of laws aimed at curbing opioid prescription abuse.

The study found that these laws — which restrict the prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances — have little effect on reducing addiction in disabled workers under age 65.

This is the demographic that has consistently struggled the most with opioid addiction nationwide.

From 2006 to 2012, states added 81 laws to limit access to controlled substances. The researchers looked at the effectiveness of those laws — such as prescription drug monitoring programs — and found they did little to reduce the amount of opioids this population group obtained.

"We observed no significant associations between opioid outcomes and specific types of laws or the number of types enacted," the authors wrote. "For example, the percentage of beneficiaries with a prescription yielding a daily MED [morphine equivalent dose] of more than 120 mg did not decline after adoption of a prescription-drug monitoring program." 

Dr. Nancy Morden is an associate professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. She co-authored the study, and says it is valuable for understanding other ways to combat the issue. 

“Backing up our laws with some robust studies should be essential given the amount of money put into the implementations of these laws,” she told VPR. “But, we also need to get really creative about other ways to curb high use of prescription opioids and the abuse, misuse and overuse.”

Laws strengthened since 2012 may have a bigger impact. The authors plan to examine that next.