Legalizing medical marijuana could help curb the opioid epidemic

04 April, 2018, 02:10 | Author: Judith Dennis
  • Editorial The

Two new studies released on Monday, April 2, 2018 suggest that legalization of marijuana may reduce the prescribing of opioids.

Opioid prescriptions tend to decrease in USA states that adopt medical marijuana laws or legalize recreational use of pot, two different research teams have concluded.

As the authors of one study summed it up, "These findings further strengthen arguments in favor of considering medical applications of cannabis as one tool in the policy arsenal that can be used to diminish the harm of prescription opioids". The number of Americans dying from opioid overdoses continues to rise; there were more than 42,000 US deaths from this cause in 2016, up from 33,000 deaths in 2015, according to a March 30 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Opioids are a class of strong pain medications, including drugs such as OxyContin (oxycodone) and Vicodin (a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen). Overdose deaths rose 21.5 percent in 2016, a much sharper spike than the 11.4 percent increase seen the previous year.

A separate study of adults insured by Medicaid, the United States health program for the poor, found medical marijuana laws associated with an nearly 6% decline in opioid prescriptions. Although many individuals believe that the opioid crisis is mainly focused on the overprescription of these drugs, it is clear that there is a large group of individuals who are using black market opioids, that could benefit from marijuana use instead. They compared opioid prescribing patterns between states with medical or recreational pot and those that have taken a hard line against weed. A 2016 law mandates that doctors check the database before prescribing opioids, to make sure patients aren't doubling up. They found that the rates of opioid prescribing in states that had legalized medical marijuana dropped by 5.9 percent annually, on average. "Papers like these two suggest that cannabis may play a role".

"I think at this point, with patients dying every day as a result of opioid use disorder, we need to consider all possible solutions to the crisis", said Dr. Kevin Hill, director of addiction psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

The National Safety Council reported that employers are taking the biggest toll in the crisis- losing eligible workers to addiction, reporting that "certain industries like construction and manufacturing, report increasing difficulties in filling open positions". Patients who were once trying to relieve pain are now addicted to the drugs.

"Marijuana is one of the potential alternative drugs that can provide relief from pain at a relatively lower risk of addiction and virtually no risk of overdose", Wen and Hockenberry write.



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