A modified Delphi process to identify experts’ perceptions of the most beneficial and harmful laws to reduce opioid-related harm

Leah K.Hamilton, Katherine Wheeler-Martin, Corey S.Davis, Silvia S.Martins, Hillary Samples, Magdalena Cerdá

Publication Date: 07/28/2022



States have enacted multiple types of laws, with a variety of constituent provisions, in response to the opioid epidemic, often simultaneously. This temporal proximity and variation in state-to-state operationalization has resulted in significant challenges for empirical research on their effects. Thus, expert consensus can be helpful to classify laws and their provisions by their degree of helpfulness and impact.


We conducted a four-stage modified policy Delphi process to identify the top 10 most helpful and 5 most harmful provisions from eight opioid-related laws. This iterative consultation with six types of opioid experts included a preliminary focus group (n=12), two consecutive surveys (n=56 and n=40, respectively), and a final focus group feedback session (n=5).


On a scale of very harmful (0) to very helpful (4), overdose Good Samaritan laws received the highest average helpfulness rating (3.62, 95% CI: 3.48-3.75), followed by naloxone access laws (3.37, 95% CI: 3.22-3.51), and pain management clinic laws (3.08, 95% CI: 2.89-3.26). Drug-induced homicide (DIH) laws were rated the most harmful (0.88, 95% CI: 0.66-1.11). Impact ratings aligned similarly, although Medicaid laws received the second highest overall impact rating (3.71, 95% CI: 3.45, 3.97). The two most helpful provisions were naloxone standing orders (3.94, 95% CI: 3.86-4.02) and Medicaid coverage of medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) (3.89, 95% CI: 3.82). Mandatory minimum DIH laws were the most harmful provision (0.73, 95% CI 0.53-0.93); followed by requiring prior authorization for Medicaid coverage of MOUD (1.00 95% CI: 0.72-1.27).


Overall, experts rated laws and provisions that facilitated harm reduction efforts and access to MOUD as most helpful. Laws and provisions rated as most harmful criminalized substance use and placed restrictions on access to MOUD. These ratings provide a foundation for evaluating the overall overdose policy environment for each state.