The states using medical marijuana for opioid substitutes

More states are turning to medical marijuana as an alternative to the addictive prescription painkillers that have driven the public health crisis.

Why it matters: Recent studies found that states with legalized medical marijuana laws have seen lower opioid overdose death rates compared to states that ban it.

By the numbers: 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, about two-thirds of them from heroin, prescription opioids and synthetic opioids, according to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • 115 Americans die on average every day from an opioid overdose.

The state of play

New York has expanded the use of medical marijuana as a substitute for an opioid prescription, a move that was first announced last month. This also means that people suffering with from severe pain, which doesn’t meet the definition of chronic pain, now qualify to receive medical pot.

  • Overdose deaths involving opioids have increased in New York by roughly 180% from 2010 (over 1,000 deaths) to 2016 (over 3,000 deaths), according to the state’s health department.
  • “Adding opioid replacement as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana offers providers another treatment option, which is a critical step in combatting the deadly opioid epidemic affecting people across the state,” New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, said in a statement.

Pennsylvania added opioid addiction to the Medical Marijuana Program’s list of qualifying conditions in May. Gov. Tom Wolf also licensed eight universities in the state to conduct clinical research on medical marijuana.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner will soon make a final decision on whether to sign bipartisan legislation, which would allow patients to buy medical pot from licensed dispensaries based on their doctors’ orders, into law.

  • The measure, passed by state lawmakers last month, would cut bureaucratic red-tape by preventing patients from waiting up to four months for approval and being denied access because of past criminal convictions.
  • Take note: A similar measure got vetoed this week in Hawaii by Gov. David Ige.

The big picture: The growing push to swap opioids with medical marijuna comes amid growing tension between state laws permitting recreational and medical marijuana, and the law enforced by the federal government classifying pot as an illegal narcotic.

  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed U.S. attorneys to more aggressively enforce the federal law, increasing confusion over how marijuana can be used in states where it’s legalized and making research about medical benefits more difficult.

8 Responses

    I despise the incessant, misguided blanket usage of the word “OPIOIDS” to talk about a complex issue with thousands of variables., Legit MDs and CPPs are easy scapegoats in this witch hunt. DEA carries on busting stores selling CBD, seizing lotsa cash, instead of intercepting the fentanyl & heroin coming in and killing approx 36000, out of 42000 od deaths.
    Media continues quoting completely bogus stats, theories, studies, research without EVER checking sources, or verifying or being a lil cynical!!!!!! I’ve written Time, Newsweek, several tv stations, local politicians, the CDC and FDA to correct statements that are BOGUS!
    and meanwhile, addicts od, and psin patients suffer immensely legit MDs are watched, intimidated, harrassed, even sued or arrested.

    Half of these articles, like this Axious, readers can’t comment so the ignorance spreads.

    • Maggi; you are so right! And if you really want to get your BP up, check out the new article in the BMJ that claims Rx’s for pain meds have NOT declined. It’s an absolute miracle of data manipulation, flagrant flimflamming, and statistical gymnastics (for one thing, the figures against which they’re comparing scrip numbers are from…..1999, i.e. just before they decided that pain was real & should be treated.
      So they’ve got these 20 year old numbers. Even if the rate of scrips for pain meds didn’t change, there’d still be more scrip because there’s a whole bunch more people now than 20 years ago, & they’re older.

      Oh yeah –it also says (with an implied gasp of horror at the thought of these people being junkies) that the largest percentage of the prescriptions went to –wait for it– disabled people. How’s that for a cataclysmically moronic “DUH!”? It’s like declaring with great shock that the majority of people who use wheelchairs are disabled. I very nearly head-slapped myself into a coma when I read it.

      But –and this goes directly to one of your points– it’s going to be very hard to rebut this asinine thing (like it has been for the fubared Krebs study) partly because most news outlets don’t allow comments, partly because most people won’t read farther than the headline, & partly because most people don’t understand statistics at all anyway (I’m not an expert at ’em by any means, but had to internalize some while working in medical research & other science my whole life). And the really eye-rollingly idiotic bits are way down at the bottom, by which time 99% of the people who DID read beyond the headline would’ve gone on to read “Garfield.”

  2. Like many, mj doesn’t do diddly for my pain. I live in a “legal” state so had a coupla years to try a few dozen different formulations & concoctions. Zip. But…even tho it’s a “legal” state, the DEA recently declared it is going after several “legal” shops.

    I know people who have had their pain helped by marijuana, but it’s not the miracle it’s advertised to be.

    There are many things about the US drug policy that are absolutely insane & completely counterproductive. It’s beyond incredible.

  3. It seems to me marijuana has become the “holy grail” for pain relief and, therefore, they want to shove it down our throats.Now with the “War on Opioids” there’s going to be a change of law at break-neck speed to allow the use of medical marijuana. So far in my state it isn’t allowed an FBI don’t think there’s yet talks to allow medical marijuana. For which I’m glad. I don’t want to use medical marijuana. I don’t want to be forced into a method of pain control. I don’t want to be high either. Even though I take an opioid I do not experience a high.
    What I haven’t seen yet are the numbers of the folks who take opioids responsibly. All this propaganda to poison the people’s minds, I’m tired of reading about. There needs to be a positive article about the people who take their medication responsibly.. Who have never failed a pill count, or a urine test. We jump through hoops and willingly at that. Hang in there everyone. If we put our heads together we might find a way to combat this. And know you’re not alone. Take care ❤

  4. It does NOT work for the pain I have, makes me feel weird and “high”, so that I am unable to be effective/functional at any kind of acceptable level, where the opioid I’m on works very well, I am functional, never feel “high”…, AND, I could not afford it if it DID work!!!
    I’ve had it with all this, don’t know what the hell to do anymore as the reduction “threat” continues…

  5. I have found that medical marijuana does absolutely nothing to treat my pain. I wish it would but does not. It also does nothing to treat withdrawals. It’s just a bait and switch, because marijuana is easier to deal with but the states and government in my opinion are doing a dis service to chronic pain patients.

  6. Medical marijuana has,been shown to not be successful in treating drug addiction.

    What will happen if/when a,patients pain increases and they need opiates ? Will they be flagged as drug users ? What happens if/when DOJ decides state marijuana laws must be more restrictive ? What happens,when medical marijuana does not help some patients pain ?

    Many may see this as progress. I do not. Too many unknowns.

    • There are numerous things a person can try that might help people in pain. Drugs alone are not the answer! I’m a chronic pain patient for 35 yrs. In Sept of 2017 I decided to tritate my self of all drugs. I was on 50mg of Oxeymorphone and 75mcg of Fentanyl Patch. It was a bitch to get off those meds. And he reason I decided to get off the pain medds because I wasn’t hurting like I did before and it made me realize that I had become addicted. I was using my drugs as a crutch to try and be normal. Yes, I use several cannibus products and they do help but the thimg I do not miss is the Anxiety, Depression. Stppd takeing those meds too. It’s a bitch of a life when your in Chronic Pain. Sorry for all the retoric.

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