Is legal weed the answer to Cleveland's opioid crisis?

Thursday, 05 Apr, 2018

Opioid prescriptions may decline when states legalise marijuana, two U.S. studies suggest.

The studies, published on Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, compared opioid prescription patterns in states that have enacted medical cannabis laws with those that have not, reports CNN.

Led by Hefei Wen, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Health Management & Policy, University of Kentucky College of Public Health, researchers conducted a cross-sectional study of all Medicaid prescription data from 2011-2016 in states that have begun to implement medical and adult-use marijuana laws during that time period, and states that have not.

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. "But if a patient has tried to treat pain using multiple modalities without success, a trial of medical cannabis may make sense".

"In Louisiana, about 800 to 900 people per year die in opioid-related overdoses, drug overdoses, so any kind of legislation that is passed that allows medical cannabis to be an option for people is probably going to reduce those deaths", said DeLeonardo.

"In medical marijuana laws, states typically specify a list of conditions that are eligible for medical marijuana, and most states have included in the list generic terms such as "severe pain, ' "chronic pain", or 'intractable pain unrelieved by standard medical treatment and medications", they wrote.

Studies have found medical pot is effective in treating chronic pain, Bradford said. They also note that the findings only apply to people using Medicare and Medicaid, which are government health insurance plans for people who are elderly, disabled, low-income or pregnant.

"Overprescribing of opioids is considered a major driving force behind the opioid epidemic in the United States".

Established dispensaries accounted for 89 of the applications, and the rest came from "economic empowerment" applicants, who can show they benefit "communities that have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana law enforcement". A 2014 study showed that states with medical cannabis laws had 24.8% fewer opioid overdose deaths between 1999 and 2010.

Opioid-related mortality has accelerated coincidentally, from 14,910 deaths in 2005 to 33,091 in 2015, the study noted.

Researchers reported that the enactment of both medicalization and adult-use laws were both associated with reductions in opioid prescribing rates, with broader legalization policies associated with the greatest rates of decline.

Finally, something is helping reduce the opioid epidemic in America: marijuana.

"I think the thing we should all keep in mind here is, those folks have been working unbelievably hard to get to this point", Baker said.

'Although older adults may be a bit wary about marijuana, the majority support more research on it, ' Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research for AARP, said.