JAMA study confirms medical marijuana use associated with 24.8 percent decline in opioid overdose death rates

The Jama Network reported that states allowing medical marijuana use saw a 25% decline in expected death rates from opiate use compared to states that have not legalized medical marijuana. This was reported in this article by the American Medical Association.

JAMA Internal Medicine

Official Results: States with medical marijuana laws had a 24.8 percent lower average annual opioid overdose death rate compared to states without such laws. In 2010, that translated to about 1,729 fewer deaths than expected. The years after implementation of medical marijuana laws also were associated with lower overdose death rates that generally got stronger over time: year 1 (-19.9 percent), year 2 (-25.2 percent), year 3 (-23.6 percent), year 4 (-20.2 percent), year 5 (-33.7 percent) and year 6 (-33.3 percent).

Bottom Line: States that implemented medical marijuana laws appear to have lower annual opioid analgesic overdoses death rates (both from prescription pain killers and illicit drugs such as heroin) than states without such laws although the reason why is not clear.

Author: Marcus A. Bachhuber, M.D., of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and colleagues.

Background: Prescriptions for opioid painkillers for chronic pain have increased in the United States and so have overdose deaths. However, less attention has been focused on how the availability of alternative nonopioid treatment, such as medical marijuana, may affect overdose rates.

Commentary: Legalization of Medical Marijuana and Incidence of Opioid Mortality

In a related commentary, Marie J. Hayes, Ph.D., of the University of Maine, Orno, and Mark S. Brown, M.D., of the Eastern Maine Medical Center, Bangor, write:  “If medical marijuana laws afford a protective effect, it is not clear why. If the decline in opioid analgesic-related overdose deaths is explained, as claimed by the authors, by increased access to medical marijuana as an adjuvant medication for patients taking prescription opioids, does this mean that marijuana provides improved pain control that decreases opioid dosing to safer levels?”

“The potential protective role of medical marijuana in opioid analgesic-associated mortality and its implication for public policy is a fruitful area for future work,” they conclude..

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