Legalizing cannabis for medical use has the potential to curb the tide of abuse, dependence and overdoses of opioid painkillers in the United States.
A new report published in the journal “Drug and Alcohol Dependence” shows that hospital treatment for opiate addiction and overdoses has fallen in states that have legalized medical cannabis.
The report suggests that medical cannabis use lowers the rate of opiate-related hospitalizations. Researchers looked at discharges from 1997-2014 and found hospitalizations dropped in states that have legalized cannabis for medical use. Hospitalizations for opiate abuse and dependence dropped 23 percent, and hospitalizations from overdoses dropped an average of 13 percent. Currently, 28 states have some form of medical cannabis regulation.
Prescriptions for opioid painkillers have also been found to drop drastically in states where medical cannabis is legal. Medicaid spending also dropped in those states with a reported 165 million dollars decrease in 2013.
The results, while preliminary, provide some hope for combatting the national problem of opiate painkiller and drug abuse. According to the CDC, 91 Americans overdose every day on opioids, and the amount of opioid painkiller prescriptions have quadrupled since 1999, even though there has been no increase in the amount of pain reported.
Currently, initiatives like Oregon’s cap on opioid painkiller doses for long-term users and Nevada’s proposed bill mandating opioid overdose medications at public schools are state efforts to combat the national problem.
An investigation has just been launched by Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, contacting five major drug manufacturers to investigate their role in opioid painkiller dependence. “This study and a few others provided some evidence regarding the potential positive benefits of legalizing marijuana to reduce opioid use and abuse, but they are still preliminary,” study author Yuyan Shi told Reuters . Shi is a public health professor at the University of California, San Diego.