A panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute Tuesday explored the social dimensions of America’s opioid crisis, with a keynote by Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) and comments by the panelists arguing that solutions to the epidemic must begin locally and with an eye towards supporting better social cohesion.

“When faced with a crisis of this magnitude, it is easy to say that the solution is a raft of new government programs. I don’t offer any easy solutions like that today. This is too complex and intractable an issue for knee-jerk responses,” Lee cautioned in his opening remarks.

Lee’s comments were informed in part by research conducted by the Social Capital Project (SCP), which Lee oversees in his capacity as Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee. The project is dedicated to documenting the state of social capital in America, measuring how healthy relationships and communities are, with an eye towards the social pathologies that can emerge in communities blighted by scourges like the opioid epidemic.

Last October, the SCP released a report analyzing the socioeconomic factors driving the opioid crisis, arguing that lack of access to social capital may help explain those populations disproportionately struck by opioid addiction. The report showed that level of education and marriage status were strong predictors of addiction, and notes how in certain communities, opioids have become a kind of parallel currency, substituting social trust and capital for the exchange of OxyContin pills.

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