Do Medical Marijuana Laws Lower Prescription Painkiller Overdoses?

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Addiction to painkillers is a nasty thing. I have had many friends start using painkillers after an injury or accident, just to get addicted and have their lives spiral out of control. Sadly, I've seen some intelligent, talented people ruin their lives with painkillers. Some of my friends that were top students in college are now on their third stint in rehab trying to shake their addiction. A few of my friends have overdosed on painkillers, ending their lives prematurely.

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Anything that lowers painkiller use is a worthwhile thing in my opinion, which is why I have pushed medical marijuana for so long. Pain can be treated very effectively with medical marijuana, without the baggage that comes with painkillers. No one has ever died from medical marijuana, ever. States that have passed medical marijuana laws have seen almost 1/4th less painkiller overdoses than states that have no medical marijuana laws. Per a study from JAMA Internal Medicine:

Objective  To determine the association between the presence of state medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality.

Results Three states (California, Oregon, and Washington) had medical cannabis laws effective prior to 1999. Ten states (Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont) enacted medical cannabis laws between 1999 and 2010. States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate (95% CI, −37.5% to −9.5%; P = .003) compared with states without medical cannabis laws. Examination of the association between medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in each year after implementation of the law showed that such laws were associated with a lower rate of overdose mortality that generally strengthened over time: year 1 (−19.9%; 95% CI, −30.6% to −7.7%; P = .002), year 2 (−25.2%; 95% CI, −40.6% to −5.9%; P = .01), year 3 (−23.6%; 95% CI, −41.1% to −1.0%; P = .04), year 4 (−20.2%; 95% CI, −33.6% to −4.0%; P = .02), year 5 (−33.7%; 95% CI, −50.9% to −10.4%; P = .008), and year 6 (−33.3%; 95% CI, −44.7% to −19.6%; P < .001). In secondary analyses, the findings remained similar.

Conclusions and Relevance Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates. Further investigation is required to determine how medical cannabis laws may interact with policies aimed at preventing opioid analgesic overdose.

People like Kevin Sabet want to talk about the social costs of marijuana reform. I would offer up this study as proof that not only are his negative social cost claims unfounded, but there are social benefits to marijuana reform. In the case of painkiller overdoses, they are dramatically lowered due to marijuana reform. Legalized medical marijuana results in more people using marijuana, which is virtually harmless, and less people using painkillers, which can lead to death by overdose.

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