Two new studies, both published in JAMA Internal Medicine, indicate that medical marijuana may be having a positive impact on the uniquely American opioid crisis. To frame the narrative, it’s necessary to understand this distinctly American plight, though. The pharmaceutical industry in the US, being the machine that it is, commercializes and advertises so many opioid drug prescriptions for so many different ailments that a massive swath of the populace has been statistically shown to get on these drugs and then get on much worse, illicit drugs as a result. The scope of the problem has been its own line of research that, in the last decade or so, has proven to be incalculably insurmountable.
In the US, drug overdoses killed almost as many people in 2016 (64,000) as a tenth of the total number of HIV/AIDS deaths that have ever occurred in several combined decades in America since the start of the HIV epidemic. Two-thirds of those drug overdoses were related to prescription or illicit opioid drugs according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as reported about a week ago. OD deaths went up by about 21.5 percent that year, which is almost double the increase seen from 2014 to 2015. There are now30 states in addition to Washington, DC that have marijuana legislation freeing up some form of marijuana use.
The new research shows that legalization of marijuana use for medical purposes in an increasing number of states has translated to the US seeing many of the opioid addicts in America turning to marijuana as a means of curbing their addiction. Marijuana has been proven by many studies to not be chemically addictive, though it does still represent an easy habit to form for those with addictive personalities; nevertheless, it’s being used for the medical purpose of getting addicts off dangerous, addictive drugs with increasing frequency. Findings from these two new reports are only the latest in a series of studies from different teams of experts who have been finding similar results as of late.
This is giving credence to a rising rationale in the US that marijuana should be used to help wean people off prescription and otherwise opioid drugs. A staggeringly large contingent of the American populace is known to abuse opioid drugs like heroin and oxycodone after being prescribed legitimate pain medication, and the authors of the new studies contend that those who can deal with their pain without getting on those gateway prescriptions tend to be far less likely to succumb to the opioid abuse epidemic. “We do know that cannabis is much less risky than opiates, as far as likelihood of dependency,” according to W. David Bradford, a public policy professor at the University of Georgia who worked directly on one of the studies. “And certainly there’s no mortality risk” when it comes to pot, which is one of the larger upsides.
The studies just published don’t address cause and effect correlations for marijuana’s role in putting a dent in the opioid crisis, and that does represent a fairly significant hole in the argument that marijuana advocates are using these studies to bolster. On the other hand, one of the studies found that Medicare’s prescription drug plan dispenses opioid drugs that particularly decrease to a large degree in the event that people have access to medical marijuana dispensaries or the option to grow their own pot for personal use.
“We had about a 14.5 percent reduction in opiate use when states turned on dispensaries,” according to one of the researchers, David Bradford, who chairs public policy for the University of Georgia’s Public and International Affairs College. Bradford added that there’s been an approximate “seven-percent reduction in opiate use when states turned on home cultivation-based cannabis laws.” These figures are separately impressive, but they compound and make an even more impressive statement.
University of Kentucky researcher, Hefei Wen, works in the Public Health College and led the other study in which an opioid prescription decrease was found to have been covered by Medicaid in the states that legalized either recreational or medicinal marijuana. Both sets of legislation were correlated in that study with an approximate 6-percent drop in opioid prescriptions. “We do think there’s a good reason to be hopeful that cannabis might be one tool out of many we could use to address the opioid epidemic,” Bradford went on to say.
Research shows that chronic pain is one of the main reasons that opioid prescriptions are proffered in the first place, and chronic pain also happens to be one of the lead reasons for medical marijuana use as well. This is viewed as one of the reasons why medical marijuana use is showing a correlation with slow but steady declines in opioid drug prescription.
[researchpaper 리서치페이퍼=Cedric Dent 기자]