The Political Consequences of Opioid Overdoses

Aaron Kaufman & Eitan Hersh
Under Review

The United States suffered a dramatic and well-documented increase in drug-related deaths from 2000 to 2018, primarily driven by prescription and non-prescription opioids, and concentrated in white and working-class areas. A growing body of research focuses on the causes, both medical and social, of this opioid crisis, but little work as yet on its larger ramifications. Using novel public records of accidental opioid deaths linked to behavioral political outcomes, we present causal analyses showing that opioid overdoses have significant political ramifications. Those close to opioid victims vote at lower rates than those less affected by the crisis, even compared to demographically-similar friends and family of other unexpected deaths. Moreover, among those friends and family affected by opioids, Republicans are 25% more likely to defect from the party than the statewide average, while Democrats are no more likely to defect; Independents are moderately more likely to register as Democrats. These results illustrate an important research design for inferring the effects of tragic events, and speak to the broad social and political consequences of what is becoming the largest public health crisis in modern United States history.

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