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Overdose deaths decrease in states with medical marijuana laws

Deaths from prescription opiates and other prescription drugs have decreased by an average of 25 percent in the states in the United States that have enacted medical marijuana laws. The death rate for illegal opiates including heroin has also decreased in those states. These findings are the results of a study conducted by Dr. Colleen L. Barry with the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and Dr. Marcus A. Bachhuber of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The research was published in the Aug. 25, 2014, edition of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Legal status of cannabis for medical purposes.
Trinitresque - CC BY-SA 3.0

The study was based on a comparison of the rates of death from opiate and prescription overdose from 1999 to 2010 as documented by death certificates compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prescription painkiller overdose deaths increased in all states between 1999 and 2010. The rate of death from prescription opiates was 25 percent lower than the average for the United States in all states that had medical marijuana laws. The rate of decrease in deaths from prescription opiates was increased by 67 percent in the states that had medical marijuana laws for six years.

At present 23 states have medical marijuana laws that are active. The researchers do not claim a direct correlation between the existence of medical marijuana laws and a decrease in overdose deaths from opiates or other drugs. The study does indicate that the option of medical marijuana as a painkiller may reduce dependency on opiates and other drugs that could cause overdose deaths.

Restrictions on the prescribing of opiates and other medications that could potentially be abused have become the norm in most states. The restriction also makes it difficult or impossible for people that are dying from cancer and other disease to get pain medication. Medical marijuana offers an alternative that may relieve the pain and mental distress of people that are going to die anyway. Perhaps a little consideration of those close to death might encourage the legalization of medical marijuana and discourage opiate abuse and overdose.