Legalizing medical marijuana could help curb the opioid epidemic

Legal marijuana linked to reduction in opioid prescriptions

The Trump administration's decision to increase spending to address the opioid crisis is a step in the right direction, but this epidemic needs more attention.

A separate study of adults insured by Medicaid, the U.S. health program for the poor, found medical marijuana laws associated with an nearly 6% decline in opioid prescriptions.

"We had about a 14.5 percent reduction in opiate use when states turned on dispensaries, and about a 7 percent reduction in opiate use when states turned on home cultivation-based cannabis laws", said researcher David Bradford, chairman of public policy at the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.

In states without medical marijuana laws, the annual opioid prescription rate was about 670 for every 1,000 people enrolled in Medicaid, the study found.

North Carolina's largest health insurer is clamping down on coverage of opioid prescriptions.

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In two studies published Monday, researchers discovered states with some type of legal marijuana saw a decrease in opioid prescriptions. Some studies reveal that medicine such as acetaminophen can be just as helpful as prescription opioids for reducing pain.

In this Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 file photo, a woman holds the prescribed medical marijuana product used to treat her daughter's epilepsy after making a purchase at a medical marijuana dispensary in Butler, Pa.

The findings suggest that access to medical marijuana may have cut patients' need for opioids to manage their pain, the researchers said. The first link that they determined shows that states that have adopted new laws regarding medical marijuana with tight regulation, were able to meet the demands of the states to a high degree. Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia had such a law from the beginning of that time; nine other states joined them during the years the study covered. In February, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills reported 418 drug overdose deaths in the state in 2017, an 11 percent rise over 2016 - when deaths surged 40 percent over 2015. The weight of that evidence is "now hard to ignore", said Bradford, who said he thinks federal regulations should be changed to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for pain treatment. Hill wrote an editorial that accompanied the two articles.

Response: Marijuana is one of the potential, non-opioid alternatives that can relieve pain at a relatively lower risk of addiction and virtually no risk of overdose. The study has also helped to identify whether or not it is beneficial for states to legalize cannabis knowing these results. 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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