Pubdate: Mon, 23 May 2016
Source: Daily Local, The (PA)
Copyright: 2016 Daily Local News - a Journal Register Property
Author: Lucas Rodgers

Weeding Through the Issues


Can the legalization of one drug help decrease abuse of another drug? 
It's possible that medical marijuana could be used to fight the 
epidemic of opioid addiction that has resulted in numerous deaths 
from overdoses in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and 
Prevention (CDC) from 2014, 46 people die every day in the United 
States from an overdose of prescription opioid or narcotic 
painkillers, such as Vicodin (hydrocodone-acetaminophen), OxyContin 
(oxycodone), Opana (oxymorphone), and methadone. The CDC found that 
in 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for 
painkillers, which is enough for every American adult to have a 
bottle of pills.

And there's proof that medical marijuana can help decrease opioid 
abuse. A study published in the Journal of the American

Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine in 2014 found that the 
annual rate of deaths from opioid overdoses decreased by 25 percent 
in states that legalized medical marijuana between 1999 and 2010.

However, the study concluded that although there is evidence of an 
association between medical marijuana

laws and reductions in deaths from opioid overdoses, further research 
and evaluation are needed before wide adoption of medical marijuana 
can be recommended as a way to reduce the risks of opioid use.

A working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research 
and the RAND Corporation in 2015 concluded that "states permitting 
medical marijuana dispensaries

experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid 
overdose deaths compared to states that do not. ... Our findings 
suggest that providing broader access to medical marijuana may have 
the potential benefit of reducing abuse of highly addictive painkillers."

The researchers found that this "mitigating effect" of medical 
marijuana laws is specific only to states that permit marijuana

dispensaries, but it does not hold true in states that have legalized 
medical marijuana but don't have or don't allow dispensaries.

Pennsylvania's Medical Marijuana Act states that severe, chronic or 
intractable pain of neuropathic origin is one of the serious medical 
conditions that is eligible for treatment with medical marijuana. The 
law also says medical marijuana can be used to treat severe, chronic 
or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention 
and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective. However, it's 
not entirely clear if patients with severe, chronic pain will be able 
to opt out of treatment with opioids from the start, and instead 
choose treatment with medical marijuana, or if they must attempt 
treatment with opioids before using medical marijuana.
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