Prescription opioid abuse in the USA has become an epidemic – but the prevalence of abuse appears to be much lower in states where medical marijuana is legal.
According to a report published by Castlight Health, hundreds of millions of opioid medication prescriptions are written up each year and nearly a third of these prescriptions are being abused.
This abuse costs the U.S. economy nearly $56 billion and each year 16,000 people die from prescription opioid overdoses. That’s around 48 people every day.
Across the USA, thousands of people present to hospital emergency departments for issues related to the improper use of opioids each day.
The toll is tragic, but it’s also big business; with 40% of opioid prescription spending attributed to abusers. It’s an industry primarily fuelled by Baby Boomers (those over 50); a group that is four times more likely to abuse opioids than Millennials.
A very interesting point in the report is that while 5.4% percent of people in states prohibiting medical marijuana abuse their opioid medication, the rate drops to just 2.8% in states where medical cannabis is legal.
If there is a direct connection, the damage wreaked by opioid abuse could be slashed dramatically simply by making medicinal cannabis legal and easily accessible in all states.
Legal medical marijuana may play an important role in reducing the toll caused by opioid abuse in a few different ways.
A study published last year found states with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate.
In December 2015, researchers at Columbia University reported opioid withdrawal during inpatient phase was lower in the group given dronabinol; a pharmaceutical formulation of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The U.S. state of Maine is taking this seriously and is contemplating enabling medical cannabis to be used as part of the treatment for addiction to opioids and other drugs.
In March, we mentioned a study indicating medical cannabis can generally reduce prescription opioid consumption.
Castlight Health’s report, The Opioid Crisis In America’s Workforce, can be viewed here (PDF).