Article by Sharon Begley, Stat News
When legal medical marijuana dispensaries start operating in a state, deaths from opioid overdoses in that state drop.
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In the United States, 25 states have legalized medical marijuana, including 19 that let patients with a prescription buy pot from dispensaries. Proponents argue that expanding the availability of medical marijuana reduces opioid abuse andoverdose deaths because it gives people an alternative for pain relief.
About 3 out of 5 opioid overdoses occur in people with legitimate prescriptions for pain pills. These are the people who might opt for medical marijuana instead.
Three recent studies support that claim.
In 2014, researchers found that states with any kind of medical marijuana law had a 25 percent lower rate of death from opioid overdoses than other states. The apparent effect grew over time: a 20 percent lower rate of opioid deaths in the laws’ first year, 24 percent in the third, and 33 percent in the sixth, researcher Colleen Barry of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and her colleagues reported in JAMA Internal Medicine. In 2010 (the last year for which the researchers had data), there were 1,729 fewer such deaths than expected in medical marijuana states.