Researcher Examines Relationship Between Legal Cannabis and Opioid Prescribing

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Medical and adult-use marijuana laws, has made marijuana available to more Americans.

There is widespread agreement among doctors and public health experts that marijuana is effective at treating chronic pain. Yet no study to date has focused on the effect of medical and adult-use marijuana laws on opioid prescribing in particular.

North Carolina's largest health insurer is clamping down on coverage of opioid prescriptions. Previously published research has indicated that states with medical cannabis laws have shown up to a 25% reduction in opioid deaths and that states with medical cannabis dispensaries have shown reductions in opioid overdose deaths by as much as 40%. The overprescribing of opioids is considered to be a major contributor to the opioid epidemic.

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Opioid prescriptions tend to decrease in US states that adopt medical marijuana laws or legalize recreational use of pot, two different research teams have concluded. The number of Americans dying from opioid overdoses continues to rise; there were more than 42,000 USA 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. Opioid prescriptions fell by 2.21 million daily doses per year, on average, in states that legalized medical marijuana - an 8.5-percent decrease - compared with opioid prescriptions in states that didn't legalize the drug. "Papers like these two suggest that cannabis may play a role".

At this point, 30 states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing some form of marijuana use, including eight states that have legalized recreational use. Medical pot was linked to reductions in hydrocodone, morphine and fentanyl prescriptions, but not to prescriptions for oxycodone, Bradford said.

"However, the economic burden of the opioid epidemic is unevenly distributed across the country, with many communities especially hard hit".

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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. 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 two studies have some limitations, Dr. Kevin Hill of Harvard Medical School and Dr. Andrew Saxon of the University of Washington in Seattle wrote in an accompanying editorial. In Kentucky, prescriptions to patients who shop around for painkillers dropped by 54 percent in the year after their state database mandate took effect.

For one thing, they don't reveal whether individual patients actually reduced or avoided using opioids because of the increased access to marijuana.

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