Naloxone expansion is not associated with increases in adolescent heroin use and injection drug use: Evidence from 44 US states

Emilie Bruzelius, Magdalena Cerdá, Corey S. Davis, Victoria Jent, Katherine Wheeler-Martin, Christine M. Mauro, Stephen Crystal, Katherine M. Keyes, Hillary Samples, Deborah S. Hasin, Silvia S. Martins

Publication Date: 04/01/2023


Naloxone distribution is central to ongoing efforts to address the opioid overdose crisis. Some critics contend that naloxone expansion may inadvertently promote high-risk substance use behaviors among adolescents, but this question has not been directly investigated.


We examined relationships between naloxone access laws and pharmacy naloxone distribution with lifetime heroin and injection drug use (IDU), 2007-2019. Models generating adjusted odds ratios (aOR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) included year and state fixed effects, controlled for demographics and sources of variation in opioid environments (e.g., fentanyl penetration), as well as additional policies expected to impact substance use (e.g., prescription drug monitoring). Exploratory and sensitivity analyses further examined naloxone law provisions (e.g., third-party prescribing) and applied e-value testing to assess vulnerability to unmeasured confounding.


Adoption of any naloxone law was not associated with changes in adolescent lifetime heroin or IDU. For pharmacy dispensing, we observed a small decrease in heroin use (aOR: 0.95 [CI: 0.92, 0.99]) and a small increase in IDU (aOR: 1.07 [CI: 1.02, 1.11]). Exploratory analyses of law provisions suggested that third-party prescribing (aOR: 0.80, [CI: 0.66, 0.96]) and non-patient-specific dispensing models (aOR: 0.78, [CI: 0.61, 0.99]) were associated with decreased heroin use but not decreased IDU. Small e-values associated with the pharmacy dispensing and provision estimates indicate that unmeasured confounding may explain observed findings.