Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Could medical marijuana be a cure for the nation's opioid epidemic?

Could medical marijuana be the answer to the nation's opioid epidemic, which is a major concern in rural areas, especially in Appalachia? Christine Vestal reports for Stateline, "Some medical practitioners and researchers believe that greater use of marijuana for pain relief could result in fewer people using the highly addictive prescription painkillers that led to the epidemic."

About 1.4 million Americans legally use medical marijuana, Vestal writes. "A 2016 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that states with medical-marijuana laws had 25 percent fewer opioid overdose deaths than states that do not have medical-marijuana laws. Another study published in Health Affairs last year found that prescriptions for opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet paid for by Medicare dropped substantially in states that adopted medical-marijuana laws."

"Advocates for greater use of medical marijuana argue that including chronic pain as an allowable condition could result in even further reductions in dangerous opioid use," Vestal writes. Some physicians remain cautious about recommending it. Dr. Jane Ballantyne, a pain specialist at the University of Washington and president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, which promotes the use of alternatives to opioids for chronic pain, told Vestal, “There is no doubt marijuana is much safer than opiates. So we don’t discourage its use.” But she said, “non-drug treatments are far more helpful than any drug treatment, and marijuana is a drug.” (Pew Research Center map: State medical-marijuana laws)

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