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Abstract: This paper evaluates the causal effect of drug decriminalization on drug overdose deaths in a context where decriminalization was not accompanied by substantial public health investments. Using the synthetic control method, I find that when Oregon decriminalized small amounts of drugs in February 2021, it caused 181 additional drug overdose deaths during the remainder of 2021. This represents a 23% increase over the number of drug overdose deaths predicted if Oregon had not decriminalized drugs. My estimates suggest that decriminalization had similar effects on drug overdose deaths among men and women and among white and non-white people.
Keywords: drug decriminalization, illicit drugs, synthetic control method
JEL Classification: D04; I18; K42