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Systems Modeling to Inform Policy Toward Illegal Markets & the Opioid Epidemic

October 28 @ 12:00 PM 1:00 PM

What happens when formal training in operational analysis meets a classic “wicked
problem” with multiple conflicting objectives, competing agency priorities, and abundant
data that nevertheless do not answer the questions that really matter? This talk gives one
answer, drawing on 30+ years of experience working on policy regarding control of
illegal markets, notably those for illegal drugs.

Prof. Jon Caulkins


Operations research and allied fields, including economics, can provide an empirical, scientific basis for policy making. Models discussed in this talk address drug initiation
(Product diffusion), price responsiveness (elasticity of demand), and operation of the illegal supply chain, both during normal times and when the distribution network is
disrupted or legalized. Corresponding data are drawn from epidemiological studies, forensic laboratory analysis, undercover buys, and interviews with incarcerated drug
smugglers and dealers in Australia, France, the UK, and the US. Together they can provide the foundation for estimating the cost-effectiveness of different strategies for
controlling drug use and associated social harms. Systems analysis is particularly important for understanding the complicated interaction of legal and illegal opioids – including fentanyls – and the resulting deadly spread of opioid use disorder and overdose. Unfortunately, there are as many puzzles as answers in
the case of opioids.


This talk will review some past successes in modeling cocaine and cannabis markets –
before and after legalization – and describe some of what remains poorly understood
about opioids markets

Bio: Jonathan P. Caulkins is the H. Guyford Stever University Professor of Operations Research and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Dr. Caulkins specializes in systems analysis of the supply chains supporting illegal markets and criminal organizations, particularly problems pertaining to drugs, crime, terror, and prevention. Issues surrounding opioid markets and regulation, COVID-19 and cannabis legalization have been a focus in recent years, including co-authoring Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press). Other interests include the optimal control, reputation and brand management, and
human trafficking.


Dr. Caulkins is a past Co-director of RAND’s Drug Policy Research Center, founding Director of RAND’s
Pittsburgh office and continues to work through RAND on a variety of projects. Dr. Caulkins received a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in systems science from Washington University, an S.M. in electrical engineering and computer science and doctorate in operations research, both from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

1513 Engineering Dr.
Madison, WI 53706 United States
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