Compared to states where cannabis was banned, states where medical marijuana was legal averaged 3.7 million fewer opioid doses annually, while states that permitted only home cultivation of marijuana had 1.8 million fewer doses. The most common prescription opioid drugs are hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine.
"I think at this point, with patients dying every day as a result of opioid use disorder, we need to consider all possible solutions to the crisis", said Dr. Kevin Hill, director of addiction psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
In the first study, Hefei Wen of the University of Kentucky and Jason Hockenberry of Emory University found that the passage of medical and recreational marijuana laws were followed by reductions in Medicaid opiate prescription rates of 5.88 percent and 6.38 percent, respectively.
The two studies were published online April 2 in JAMA Internal Medicine. "But if a patient has tried to treat pain using multiple modalities without success, a trial of medical cannabis may make sense".
The studies are the latest in a long line of research showing that marijuana availability is associated with reductions in opiate use and misuse. In Prescription Nation, a digest analyzing how states are tackling the worst drug crisis in recorded USA history, the Council assigned its highest mark of "Improving" to Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, DC, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia.
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W. David Bradford, an economist at the University of Georgia in Athens who's an author of the second study, said the results add to other findings that suggest to experts that marijuana is a viable alternative to opioids.
"Of course, there may be diversion from medical cannabis sources to recreational purposes - our research can't really speak to that", Bradford said by email.
Both types of laws were linked to about a 6 percent decline in opioid prescribing, researchers reported.
The study of Medicaid patients examined the association between opioid prescribing rates and state marijuana laws implemented from 2011 to 2016. Although many individuals believe that the opioid crisis is mainly focused on the overprescription of these drugs, it is clear that there is a large group of individuals who are using black market opioids, that could benefit from marijuana use instead.
The report said 85 percent of opioid-related deaths were caused by the victim taking one or more opioid drugs, with a 27 percent increase in deaths due to illegal fentanyl and fentanyl analogs. The fast-growing opioid crisis is more relevant than HIV/AIDS today and needs more funding to educate people and provide more treatment facilities.