Annual opioid analgesic overdose death rates appear to be lower among states that have implemented medical marijuana laws compared with states without laws, according to recent study findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
“Prescription drug abuse and deaths due to overdose have emerged as national public health crises,” Colleen L. Barry, PhD, associate professor in the department of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a press release. “As our awareness of the addiction and overdose risks associated with use of opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin grow, individuals with chronic pain and their medical providers may be opting to treat pain entirely or in part with medical marijuana, in states where this is legal.”
Barry and colleagues evaluated death certificate data from the CDC to determine the effect of state medical marijuana laws on opioid analgesic overdose deaths in the United States between 1999 and 2010. Before 1999, three states had medical marijuana laws and 10 more states implemented laws between 1999 and 2010.
There was a 24.8% lower annual rate of opioid overdose deaths in states that had medical marijuana laws (P=.003) compared with states without laws.
“The unique contribution of this study is that it provides evidence of a possible unexpected public health benefit of medical marijuana laws and policy,” study researcher Marcus Bachhuber, MD, of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Pennsylvania, told Healio.com/Psychiatry. “Beyond providing access to medical marijuana for individuals, our results suggest that these laws may have broader impacts on public health.”
In an accompanying editorial, Marie J. Hayes, PhD, of the University of Maine, and Mark S. Brown, MD, of the Eastern Maine Medical Center, wrote that “the potential protective role of medical marijuana in opioid analgesic-associated mortality and its implication for public policy is a fruitful area for future work.” — by Amber Cox
For more information:
Bachhuber MA. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4005.
Hayes MJ. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.2716.
Disclosure: See the full studies for a complete list of the researchers’ relevant financial disclosures.