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Main writes: "America has a major problem with prescription pain medications like Vicodin and OxyContin. Overdose deaths from these pharmaceutical opioids have approximately tripled since 1991, and every day 46 people die of such overdoses in the United States."

A jar of medical marijuana is displayed at the California Heritage Market in Los Angeles. (photo: David McNew/Reuters)
A jar of medical marijuana is displayed at the California Heritage Market in Los Angeles. (photo: David McNew/Reuters)

In States With Medical Marijuana, Painkiller Deaths Down 25 Percent

By Douglas Main, Newsweek

26 August 14


merica has a major problem with prescription pain medications like Vicodin and OxyContin. Overdose deaths from these pharmaceutical opioids have approximately tripled since 1991, and every day 46 people die of such overdoses in the United States.

However, in the 13 states that passed laws allowing for the use of medical marijuana between 1999 and 2010, 25 percent fewer people die from opioid overdoses annually.

“The difference is quite striking,” said study co-author Colleen Barry, a health policy researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. The shift showed up quite quickly and become visible the year after medical marijuana was accepted in each state, she told Newsweek.

In the study, published today August 25 in JAMA Internal Medicine, the researchers hypothesize that in states where medical marijuana can be prescribed, patients may use pot to treat pain, either instead of prescription opiates, or to supplement them—and may thus require a lower dosage that is less likely to lead to a fatal problem.

As with most findings involving marijuana and public policy, however, not everyone agrees on a single interpretation of the results.

It certainly can be said that marijuana is much less toxic than opiates like Percocet or morphine, and that it is “basically impossible” to die from an overdose of weed, Barry said. Based on those agreed-upon facts, it would seem that an increased use in marijuana instead of opiates for chronic pain is the most obvious explanation of the reduction in overdose deaths.

Not so fast, said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer at Phoenix House, a national nonprofit addiction treatment agency. He said that the immediate reduction in overdose deaths is extremely unlikely to be due to the substitute use of the herb, for one simple reason: Marijuana isn’t widely prescribed for chronic pain.

“You don’t have primary care doctors in these states [prescribing] marijuana instead of Vicodin,” he said. Even in states where medical marijuana is legal, it is only prescribed by a small subset of doctors, and, therefore, probably couldn’t explain the huge decrease in opiate-related overdose deaths.

Kolodny says the study results are more likely due to a host of factors. One example is differences in state policies to cut down on over-prescribing of opiate medications. Also, many people who overdose on painkillers are already addicted, and these individuals are naturally among the most likely to take too much, Kolodny told Newsweek. States that pass progressive laws to treat addiction may be more likely to lower their rates of overdose deaths; for political reasons these states may also be more likely to legalize medical marijuana.

“This is a good example of where policy change has gotten ahead of the science,” Barry said. She and Kolodny would probably agree on that point. your social media marketing partner


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+31 # tpm713 2014-08-26 16:45
All drugs should be legalized and taxed. It is insulting that politicians get to decide which drugs I can use. Alcohol is one of the worst drugs available.
+24 # PeacefulGarden 2014-08-26 18:21
Please, my goodness. Wake up! The abuse of prescription opiates has probably fallen 90% because of the legalization of marijuana.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny gave the "hold on, Doctors don't prescribe marijuana for chronic pain relief", because of some questionable reason? This is a doctor involved in addiction treatment?

He cannot figure out that there is no need to abuse prescription opiates (on the streets) if marijuana is available?

Next, crime will go down, because alcohol consumption will go down. You don't need a degree in psychometrics to figure this out. Gosh, crime will go down, who would have ever thought this in the USA?

What will those for-profit jails do now?
+3 # tpm713 2014-08-27 08:06
Painkillers almost killed me. I was prescribed percocet when I got my wisdom teeth out, and 2 years later i was shooting heroin. Percocet is the same thing as heroin and has the same effects. Once you get hooked on that stuff it is extremely difficult to get off. I do not think marijuana is a pain reliever though. I have smoked it many times and I never noticed any pain relieving effect. But, that being said, I do think it should be legalized.
+5 # backwards_cinderella 2014-08-27 04:46
NY has a medical marijuana law but you have to almost dead to get a script. maybe we'll be able to get it for chronic pain some day but i'll probably be in the grave by then.
-8 # PeacefulGarden 2014-08-27 07:55
I do not think marijuana is a valid option for chronic pain relief.
+6 # daddydt 2014-08-27 06:13
I agree completely with TPM713. Legalize all drugs, regulate, and tax them.
+3 # tpm713 2014-08-27 08:07
And end the B.S. war on drugs.
+6 # RMDC 2014-08-27 07:36
The toxicity of prescription drugs is the next huge and looming problem. Drug companies make these drugs in order to get people to use them daily and forever. They destroy bodily organs or something else. Now we will need a subset of doctors who treat illnesses caused by the drugs people took to treat something else.

Marijuana seems very benign compared to the synthetic heroin being promoted by the drug companies. This article calls then "pharmaceutical opioids." There's a lot in a name. People might take a pharmaceutical opioid. But there would be some resistance if they were always called synthesized or chemical heroin. The people who take Oxycontin and Vicodin are heroin addicts. This includes Rush Limbaugh.
-5 # tpm713 2014-08-27 08:08
Barack Obama is clearly a drug abuser also.
0 # humanmancalvin 2014-08-27 10:50
Living in the state of Florida & being a severely chronic pain patient for over 20 years, I am not holding my breath for pots legalization in this backwards state for many years to come if ever.While marijuana does not give me the pain relief of a narcotic, particularly during a high spike in pain, it does help to calm me allowing me to meditate & do breathing exercises that can help with relief. When in a crazy spike using the subjective 1-10 pain scale, I determine at times between an 8 to a 10. Looking at me I appear as fit as anybody else that you may meet during the day. So when & if I mention my intolerable pain to a friend or acquaintance I am generally shrugged off & told to take Advil or Aspirin, etc., after all they say, it works for me & you look great.
Medical marijuana would be a blessing for me as well as many other chronic pain patients I am familiar with through Facebook groups & the like & they all agree. My pain doc would cut me loose if I tested positive for pot in my system, he says by law whether that is true or not I do not know.
Pass the legalization of marijuana for the sake of folks like me or for those that would be better off smoking a little pot rather than getting drunk & becoming as usual a complete drunken pain in the ass not to mention deadly behind the wheel of a car though one should not smoke & drive either.
+2 # tpm713 2014-08-27 14:33
Smoking and driving is indeed much safer than drinking and driving though.
0 # corals33 2014-08-31 16:58
OH!!!! It's MEDICAL now is it??? I remember when it was CRIMINAL and destroying lives by jailing and disgracing its users.
Something about the stone that the builder refused!!!

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