One prescription drug is keeping some addicts from dying. So why isn’t it more widespread? A story of regulation, stigma, and the potentially fatal faith in abstinence.

Photo: George Frey/Stringer/Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died of opioid overdoses in recent years. While opioid deaths in the United States have started to level off, more than one in five Americans still have at least one opioid prescription filled or refilled per year. And a dependence on prescription opioids can too easily lead to a dependence on heroin or synthetic fentanyl, both of which are far deadlier.

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that roughly 2 million Americans have opioid use disorder. …

How pharma greed, government subsidies, and a push to make pain the “fifth vital sign” kicked off a crisis that costs $80 billion a year and has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans

Oxycodone pain pills prescribed for a patient with chronic pain lie on display
Oxycodone pain pills prescribed for a patient with chronic pain lie on display
Oxycodone pain pills prescribed for a patient with chronic pain. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The U.S. is in the throes of a full-blown crisis of opioid overuse, abuse, damage, and death. As far back as 2006, federal health institutes flagged what they called “disturbing data about a spike in opioid addictions. But the message didn’t seem to get through. Prescriptions for opioids continued to rise, and during the Obama administration, opioid abuse was declared an epidemic. The crisis has persisted under the Trump administration.

The good news is that overdose deaths have finally stopped increasing, for the first time since 1990. Still, tens of thousands of people each year are dying from opioids —…

A year ago, nobody was taking Andrew Yang very seriously. Now he is America’s favorite entrepre-nerd, with a candidacy that keeps gaining momentum. This episode includes our January 2019 conversation with the leader of the Yang Gang and a fresh interview recorded from the campaign trail in Iowa.

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang waves as he arrives at the 2020 Gun Safety Forum on October 2, 2019. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Andrew Yang, the long-shot presidential candidate who has now outlasted several prominent contenders in the Democratic primary, is the son of immigrants. He was born in Schenectady, New York; studied economics and political science at Brown; and got a law degree at Columbia. After law school, Yang worked at a prestigious law firm, then a few different startup firms, and then at a test-prep company called Manhattan Prep. Yang eventually became the CEO of that company, walking away with millions after it was sold.

In the American Dream sweepstakes, Yang has been a pretty big winner. But he has also…

Every year, Americans short the IRS nearly half a trillion dollars. Most ideas to increase compliance are more stick than carrot — scary letters, audits, and penalties. But what if we gave taxpayers a chance to allocate how their money is spent, or even bribed them with a thank-you gift?

Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

One of the biggest economic problems in the United States today is the tax gap, the difference between taxes owed to the federal government and what’s actually paid. The U.S. tax gap is considered quite large for a rich country; the IRS says it’s around 15% to 20% of the total amount due. This adds up to $477 billion — that’s nearly half a trillion dollars — each year in unpaid taxes.

There’s a lot of conversation these days, especially on the presidential-campaign trail, about whether to levy more taxes, especially on corporations and the wealthiest individuals. But wouldn’t it…

Freakonomics Radio

Innovation experts have long overlooked where a lot of innovation actually happens. The personal computer, the mountain bike, the artificial pancreas — none of these came from some big R&D lab, but from users tinkering in their homes. Acknowledging this reality — and encouraging it — would be good for the economy (and the soul too).

Photo: Create Digital Media via flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

When you think about innovation these days, what kind of image comes to mind? Maybe a massive computer-science lab, or a well-funded medical-device workshop, or a flavor-profile laboratory run by a gigantic food company?

These are all true enough examples of corporate innovation — but they’re just the most visible sites of the innovation chain, the kind of photos you see in IPO slide decks for cutting-edge companies. They’re just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath that gleaming peak lie millions of underfunded, underappreciated home innovators.

The power of home innovation is significant, for both economic and metaphysical reasons. …

Freakonomics Radio

A recent outbreak of illness and death has gotten everyone’s attention — including late-to-the-game regulators. But would a ban on e-cigarettes do more harm than good? We smoke out the facts.

Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Unless you’ve been hibernating, you’ve probably heard about the dangers posed by e-cigarettes and vaping. Forty-two people in the United States have died and 2,000 have been injured in cases involving a severe respiratory ailment called EVALI, or “e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury.”

People have been vaping for years, but the deaths are new. The epidemic has been met with something between alarm and panic. The reaction is understandable. More than 40 million people around the world now vape, up from just 7 million less than a decade ago. …

Freakonomics Radio

For nearly a decade, governments have been using behavioral nudges to solve problems — and the strategy is catching on in health care, firefighting, and policing. But is that thinking too small? Could nudging be used to fight income inequality and achieve world peace?

Photo: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Almost ten years ago, a quiet revolution began in London, in the very heart of the U.K.’s central government. This revolution promoted something that shouldn’t really need promoting: policy-making based on empirical evidence.

After all, wouldn’t it make sense for governments to design policy based on data-driven solutions rather than on opinion polls or personal whim or (worse yet) the demands of the highest bidder? This was the revolutionary idea behind the establishment in 2010 of the Behavioural Insights Team — or as it’s more commonly called, the Nudge Unit.

Its mission was to translate the best current social-science research…

Freakonomics Radio

It’s an acutely haphazard way of paying workers, and yet it keeps expanding. We dig into the data to find out why.

A close up of a dollar bill on a coffee table, next to a coffee mug and a glass of water.
A close up of a dollar bill on a coffee table, next to a coffee mug and a glass of water.

Americans have been tipping, and debating the merits of tipping, for hundreds of years. An 1897 New York Times article described tipping as the “vilest of imported vices.” Today, it’s estimated that Americans spend roughly $40 billion a year on tips. That’s more than the entire health-and-fitness industry is worth; it’s double the annual budget for NASA.

But there are a lot of reasons to dislike the practice. For starters, the norms around it are exceedingly convoluted. Why, for example, do people always tip at upscale restaurants, sometimes at coffee shops, and never at McDonald’s? …

Freakonomics Radio

Do economic sanctions work? Are big democracies any good at spreading democracy? What is the root cause of terrorism? It turns out that data analysis can help answer all these questions — and make better foreign-policy decisions.

U.S. Army 11th Engineers move into position ahead of a possible military strike near Kuwait-Iraq border on March 18, 2003.
U.S. Army 11th Engineers move into position ahead of a possible military strike near Kuwait-Iraq border on March 18, 2003.
Photo: Scott Nelson/Getty

At the moment, the United States has a relatively charged relationship with, among others, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. The stakes in each case are high; the issues are complex. And the outcomes will reverberate for decades, if not longer.

Fortunately for policymakers, a group of researchers at the Chicago Project on Security and Threats (C-POST) has been conducting data-driven research on foreign policy and international security. We talked to those experts, as well as a couple of high-ranking practitioners of foreign policy, about what works, what doesn’t, and what to make of U.S. …

Freakonomics Radio

For decades, there’s been a huge gender disparity both on-screen and behind the scenes. But it seems like cold, hard data — with an assist from the actor Geena Davis — may finally be moving the needle.

Disney character Belle at the Walt Disney premiere of “The Ice Princess” on March 13, 2005 in Hollywood, California.
Disney character Belle at the Walt Disney premiere of “The Ice Princess” on March 13, 2005 in Hollywood, California.
Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty

In 1991, the actress Geena Davis starred in a movie that made her superfamous: Thelma and Louise. She played a timid housewife who goes road-tripping with her not-at-all timid friend, played by Susan Sarandon. As Hollywood films go, it was a huge outlier: two female leads, a female screenwriter, and the kind of raucous, thorny story that is usually reserved for men. Also, a wild gut-punch of an ending.

Making Thelma and Louise changed Geena Davis from the very beginning. She and Sarandon were asked to attend a meeting with Ridley Scott, the film’s director, to give feedback on the…

Stephen J. Dubner/ Freakonomics Radio

Stephen J. Dubner is co-author of the Freakonomics books and host of Freakonomics Radio.

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