States with legal marijuana see fewer opioid prescriptions

04 April, 2018, 02:05 | Author: Jared Lewis
  • Legal marijuana linked to reduction in opioid prescriptions

Response: Medical and adult-use marijuana laws have the potential to lower opioid prescribing for Medicaid enrollees, a high-risk population for chronic pain, opioid use disorder, and opioid overdose. The campaign focuses on making cannabis an option for pain management.

"We do think there's good reason to be hopeful that cannabis might be one tool out of many we could use to address the opioid epidemic", Bradford said.

Researchers found that Medicare patients in states with marijuana dispensaries filled prescriptions for about 14 percent fewer daily doses of opioids than those in other states.

And when states with such a law went on to also allow recreational marijuana use by adults, there was an additional drop averaging about 6 per cent. "The latest numbers show us that there were over 64,000 opioid deaths a year ago".

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"Patients and physicians seem to be responding to the introduction of medical cannabis as if it were medicine - in many ways as they would with the introduction of a new FDA-approved medical treatment", said study coauthor W. David Bradford, a researcher at the University of Georgia in Athens.

When states implemented medical marijuana laws, however, the annual opioid prescription rate declined by nearly 6%, or approximately 39 fewer prescriptions for every 1,000 people enrolled in Medicaid each year.

The National Safety Council is releasing the report at the National Rx Drug and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, in front of the Council's Prescribed to Death Memorial to the victims of the opioid crisis. Although these drugs have addictive qualities, they are useful for reducing pain when taken correctly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 90 Americans a day die from opioid overdose. Also, it's unclear from the studies exactly how much marijuana use was for medical versus recreational purposes or how much people might have relied on other non-opioid painkillers.

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We also need stronger background checks before patients can be prescribed unsafe drugs like Vicodin and Oxycontin, which are usually responsible for starting the downward spiral of addiction.

Still, it may not be possible to replace all kinds of pain medications with marijuana.

The studies couldn't prove cause and effect.

The report has found specifically that legalizing medical marijuana is highly associated with lower levels of opioid related deaths, in states that have put forth legislation to make marijuana legal.

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Future studies should take a closer look at the link by performing randomized clinical trials to see the effects of taking marijuana for pain or following patients to see if marijuana helped them avoid opioids altogether or only lower their use. Nonetheless, marijuana liberalization alone can not solve the opioid epidemic. "It is but one aspect of a comprehensive package to tackle the epidemic", Wen told Live Science.

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