VERIFY: Can legalization of medical marijuana be linked to less opioid deaths?

Julia Jenae looks at data from states that legalized medical marijuana

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health emergency Wednesday calling Florida's opioid abuse problem an epidemic.

In Jacksonville, the medical examiner's office estimates 544 people died in 2016 due to opioid overdose, a number unprecedented compared to previous years.

A common claim by those advocating for the legalization of marijuana is that cannabis use can help bring down opioid abuse numbers. 

Using the data states sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and reviewing the 29 states that have had medical marijuana laws, only 12 states have had regulations on the books for more than a decade. Of these, studies show nine states including Montana, Colorado and Nevada saw a reduction in opioid overdose deaths after passings laws permitting some form of medical marijuana.

University of California San Diego published a study in 2016 linking medical marijuana laws to a reduction in opioid overdoses, finding that painkiller abuse and addiction dropped an average 23 percent and overdoses dropped 13 percent.    

A Health Affairs Journal article in July 2016 echoed these results showing a decrease in Medicare opioid prescriptions in states with medical marijuana laws. 

The data is limited to what states report to the CDC, which is not always exhaustive. Autopsies are not always performed on overdose patients, further impacting reporting numbers.

In Jacksonville, Dr. Raymond Pomm of River Regional Home Services, Inc. and addiction treatment center said the studies focus on prescription drug opoid abuse. Pomm said the opioid crisis on the First Coast is no longer limited to addiction to prescriptions. 

"The studies have to do with the prescription opioids, but we've now taken a quantum leap from the prescription opioid epidemic, which certainly is a problem," Pomm said. "We've now have got this bigger problem of fentanyl that's killing people very quickly."

Critics of the study believe it needs to also include research on what other issues may arise from marijuana dependency.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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