A new working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals states with active medical marijuana dispensary systems are cutting 7% of illegal opioid deaths annually- but states with legalized dispensaries cut that rate by 20%.
The working paper titled, 'DO MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAWS REDUCE ADDICTIONS AND DEATHS RELATED TO PAIN KILLERS?' was written by David Powell, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, Mireille Jacobson. It was published on the NBER website in July of 2015.
Powell and Pacula work for the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California; Jacobson works at the University of California - Irvine. All three are credited as being with the NBER. The Working Paper was funded by the RAND Corporation via a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
"If marijuana is used as a substitute for powerful and addictive pain relievers in medical marijuana states, a potential overlooked positive impact of medical marijuana laws may be a reduction in harms associated with opioid pain relievers, a far more addictive and potentially deadly substance," the Abstract begins.
After a detail on methodology, the Abstract concludes: "we find that states permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not. We find no impact of medical marijuana laws more broadly; the mitigating effect of medical marijuana laws is specific to states that permit dispensaries."
In the body of the Paper the authors cite a previous study by Bachuber et al, from 2014, which found "age-adjusted opiate mortality decreased in states that adopted medical marijuana laws".
The authors looked further into the data and differentiated the states which have authorized medical marijuana into those with legalized distribution of marijuana through 'dispensaries,' and those without legalized dispensary systems. Further, they identified states with dispensary systems that were active but not authorized by law; Michigan fell into this grouping.
Their conclusions: merely having medical marijuana laws on the books does not reduce substance abuse or mortality, but the authors found "strong evidence that medical marijuana laws legalizing dispensaries reduce substance abuse treatments for opioids."
The Paper cites a 15% decrease in treatment admissions in those states, with a 16% decrease in deaths from opioids. Those numbers could both be higher- up to 31% reduction in mortality- if a different control model is utilized. These results occur "only in states with dispensaries and not in the broader group of medical marijuana states."
The authors dug deeper, looking at the nature of opioid distribution in those states with dispensaries. They discovered that those states with legalized distribution of marijuana were not experiencing a decrease in legal opioid distribution, suggesting that "legalized medical marijuana distribution replaces illegal opioid acquisition and use."
States like Michigan with 'active' dispensary models (non-legal) experienced no statistically significant change in opioid treatment, but those states with legalized dispensaries saw a 28% decrease in treatment, and a 35% decrease in overall substance abuse treatment admissions, a number that jumps to a 53% reduction when criminal justice referrals are excluded from the sample data. Legal dispensary states experienced a 31% reduction in deaths from overdose due to opioids, leading the researchers to say the have "strong, consistent evidence" linking legalized distribution of medical marijuana to saving lives from opioid overdose.
The authors clearly state that this effect "grows in magnitude over time," paralleling the growth of medical marijuana markets in those states with them, implying that medical marijuana dispensaries may be the long-term solution to the national scourge of illegal opioid deaths that Americans have been searching for.
The Working Paper is the latest in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper Series. It is © 2015 by David Powell, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, and Mireille Jacobson. All rights reserved.
The working paper is available for download at the NBER website. The cost is $5.00.
Source: The Compassion Chronicles