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article imageStudy: Medical marijuana can lead to fewer opioid overdose deaths

By Greta McClain     Aug 27, 2014 in Health
According to a new study, chronic pain suffers living in states where medical marijuana use has been legalized are less likely to die from prescription opioid overdose.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday, was conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center. It looked at the number of prescription opioid overdose related deaths between 1999 and 2010. The data showed there were 25 percent fewer overdose deaths in states that allowed medical marijuana use. Although the study did not show that patients using medical marijuana did not also use prescription painkillers, it did indicate that they were using the drugs less frequently, thereby reducing the likelihood of overdose.
When discussing the study's findings, lead author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber said:
"In absolute terms, states with a medical marijuana law had about 1,700 fewer opioid painkiller overdose deaths in 2010 than would be expected based on trends before the laws were passed."
There has been a sharp rise in the number of prescribed opiod painkillers over the last decade. A Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice study showed the overall number of opioid painkiller prescriptions rose from 43.8 million in 2000 to 89.2 million in 2010, an increase of 104 percent. The number of lethal overdoses have risen at a similar alarming rate. A press release issued by the Center of Disease Control (CDC) in February of 2013 showed that the number of prescription opioid overdose deaths in 1999 stood at 4,030. By 2009 that number increased to 15,597, and in 2010 16,651 deaths were reported.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the District of Columbia and 23 other states have legalizing the use and production of medical marijuana for qualifying patients. A CDC report issued in July of this year showed there were 259 million opioid painkiller prescriptions written by health care providers in 2012. Each day, 46 people in the United States die from prescription painkillers overdose according to the
Number of painkiller prescriptions per 100 people in each of the fifty states plus the District of C...
Number of painkiller prescriptions per 100 people in each of the fifty states plus the District of Columbia in 2012.
Center for Disese Control
CDC. The states with the lowest number of prescriptions, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii, Minnesota and California, have legalized medical marijuana. Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Oklahoma have the highest number of opioid painkiller prescriptions. None of these states allow medical marijuana use.
There is little doubt that the legal use of opioid painkillers and rise in lethal overdoses is a growing problem, however not everyone believes that medicinal marijuana is the answer. New York's Lenox Hill Hospital physician, Dr. Bradley Flansbaum, told WebMD:
"I don't know what to make of the paper. I'd be very, very careful saying that medical marijuana laws decrease risk of opiate [narcotic] overdose. It's a very loose association."
Bachhuber disagrees however. Despite the fact that medicinal marijuana is still a controversial topic, he thinks the study's findings are encouraging. He told Time Magazine:
“I know many doctors struggle with the issue of who would be best to treat medical marijuana. There are some doctors who say that there is no valid medical use. I think that leaves a tremendous opportunity for future studies to help guide use to look at the risk and benefits and in clinical practice. Any change that leads to fewer people dying of opioid overdoses would be a positive.”
More about Marijuana, Medical Marijuana, opioids, Drug overdose, Chronic pain
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