Legalizing marijuana could stem opioid abuse, Pitt study suggests


Legalizing marijuana for leisure use might result in fewer opioid-spurred well being emergencies and overdose deaths, a College of Pittsburgh research has discovered.

Opioid-related emergency division visits dropped by 7.6% inside a 12 months of hashish legalization for grownup residents in 4 states — California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts — in keeping with the evaluation led by Pitt’s Graduate Faculty of Public Well being.

Lead research writer Coleman Drake stated the analysis doesn’t level to hashish legalization as “the silver bullet” to stemming the opioid epidemic, nevertheless it could possibly be “one other arrow within the quivers” of policymakers to fight the broader disaster.

“It means that leisure hashish legalization could possibly be an efficient instrument to assist not solely cut back opioid use but in addition to scale back the well being implications that stem from opioid use, one among them being overdoses,” stated Drake, assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Health Policy and Management. “That’s probably thrilling and promising.”

The research didn’t look at knowledge from Pennsylvania, the place solely medical marijuana has been obtainable since 2016, though legislative efforts are brewing to vary that. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia now enable leisure marijuana use, with New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut among the many newest to take action this 12 months.

“I might hope that policymakers in states that haven’t but legalized leisure hashish would check out this intently,” Drake stated.

Not a ‘gateway drug’

The research’s findings add to mounting peer-reviewed proof that marijuana, at the very least as soon as legalized, doesn’t pose the specter of a so-called “gateway drug” that results in more durable drug use — an argument lodged by Pennsylvania GOP leaders against broad legalization.

“Our state is within the midst of an opioid epidemic. Gov. Wolf signed a catastrophe declaration over the disaster and renewed the declaration six separate occasions since January 2018,” Home Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, stated in a press release criticizing Wolf’s declaration in 2019 that he’d signal any hashish legalization that reached his desk. “We don’t imagine easing rules on unlawful medicine is the best transfer in serving to the hundreds of Pennsylvanians who’re battling drug dependancy.”

The Pitt research, which has been within the works for greater than a 12 months and was backed by the Nationwide Institute on Drug Abuse, was printed this week within the journal Well being Economics. Pitt researchers collaborated with authors on the Harvard Pilgrim Well being Care Institute and RTI Worldwide.

They analyzed knowledge on hospital visits involving opioids from 2011 by way of 2017 in 29 states, together with the 4 that legalized hashish and 25 different states to function controls. The research took into consideration native financial circumstances, Medicaid availability, prescription drug monitoring applications and different state-specific elements and insurance policies.

Drake famous that, typically talking, “it wasn’t the intent of policymakers initially once they have been legalizing hashish to make use of it as a instrument in opposition to the opioid epidemic,” nevertheless it’s been a welcome impact.

Although the constructive impression on emergency rooms started to wane after six months, the brand new Pitt research suggests marijuana use, on the minimal, doesn’t result in a rise in opioid use. At greatest, decriminalizing hashish would possibly result in much less opioid use, by way of the likes of serving to some addicts recuperate and stopping different persistent ache sufferers from turning into addicted.

The research discovered reductions in opioid emergencies have been particularly outstanding amongst males ages 25 to 44.

”That’s not likely shocking, as a result of we all know these are the populations that have a tendency to make use of hashish greater than the remainder of the inhabitants proportionally,” Drake stated.

Drake stated extra analysis is required to discover why the reductions in opioid emergencies seem to have waned after the primary 12 months of hashish legalization, in addition to to look at what occurs in subsequent years. The research additionally had knowledge limitations, together with not having the ability to distinguish particular sorts of opioids, equivalent to heroin, fentanyl or prescription opioids.

Opioid dependancy remedy and utilizing hashish for persistent ache as an alternative choice to opioids are amongst Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program’s qualifying circumstances.

Proposals for broad legalization haven’t made it far within the GOP-controlled Legislature in recent times, although Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, D-Braddock, has made legalizing hashish a precedence and secured the governor’s backing in 2018, a change from Wolf beforehand refusing to take action publicly.

Will Pennsylvania legalize hashish?

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Assessment employees author. You’ll be able to contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, or by way of Twitter .


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