Pubdate: Tue, 06 Feb 2018
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2018 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Sam Wood


States with medical marijuana dispensaries saw "a significant decline"
in opioid deaths over a 10-year period, according to a report
published this week by the Journal of Health Economics.

"The evidence suggests that Pennsylvania will see a reduction in
opioid dependence and a reduction in overdose deaths" following the
opening of the dispensaries, said David Powell, an economist for the
RAND Corporation, in an interview with the Inquirer and Daily News.

Pennsylvania is launching its first dispensaries next week, with the
first medical marijuana products expected to be available to
registered patients on Feb. 15.

Powell coauthored the report, "Do medical marijuana laws reduce
addictions and deaths related to pain killers," along with researchers
from the University of California, Irvine, and the National Bureau of
Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass. It was published this week.

The study suggests that patients will substitute medical marijuana for
addictive prescription opioids if cannabis products are available
through dispensaries. Between 2000 and 2010, opioid-related fatalities
and reductions in treatment admissions in states with flourishing
dispensaries declined by about 20 percent.

The report provides "some modest hope in an otherwise bleak landscape," 
Powell said.

But he issued a caveat. The study was conducted before fentanyl and
other synthetic opioids began to ravage the nation, he said, so it may
not be directly applicable to the current crisis. Illicit fentanyl,
nearly all of it imported from China, has become the dominant killer
implicated in fatal overdoses during the past two years.

In addition, the association between medical marijuana dispensaries
and fewer deaths appears to have weakened sharply after 2010, when
states began to tighten requirements on sales by dispensaries.

Powell said the declines were "relative." States that passed laws to
legalize medical marijuana, but have had no dispensaries, did not
experience declines.

The state Department of Health, which administers Pennsylvania's
medical marijuana program, has not had a chance to review the RAND
report, said April Hutcheson, spokeswoman for the department.

She said the state was reconsidering prescription guidelines for
opioids used to treat non-cancer pain. "Medical marijuana is one of
the things we're taking a look at for treating that type of chronic
pain," Hutcheson said.

Legal medical cannabis products are expected to be available for the
first time ever in Pennsylvania next week at a handful of
dispensaries. Keystone Canna Remedies in Bethlehem is scheduled to
open on Feb. 15. Keystone Shops in Devon will open on Feb. 16.

Storefronts in Abington, Bristol, Devon, Elkins Park, Philadelphia,
and Sellersville are expected to open by mid-March.

Jason Mitchell, general manager of Keystone Shops, said he was excited
to be playing a role in the battle against addiction.

"I hope to see the same trend in a decline in deaths locally,"
Mitchell said. "I believe medical marijuana can be an exit strategy
for people to get off opioids and live a healthier life."
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