Study: Opioid Use Lower In States With Medical Marijuana

A new study published in the Journal of American Medical Association finds states with easy-to-access medical marijuana, like Oregon, are seeing less opioid usage than others.

Posted: Apr 4, 2018 6:42 PM
Updated: Apr 4, 2018 7:03 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. -- A new study published in the Journal of American Medical Association finds states with easy-to-access medical marijuana, like Oregon, are seeing less opioid usage than others.

A Southern Oregon cannabis clinic agrees, but Oregon health officials say it's still too early to draw that kind of conclusion.

The study took data from medicaid to see how opioid usage has changed in states with legalized medical marijuana.

Brent Kenyon, Southern Oregon Alternative Medicine Director, said many of his customers want to switch from prescription opioids to cannabis for pain relief.

"We've seen it here over the last 18 years we've been doing business, huge amounts of reductions of prescription pill abuse," Kenyon said.

Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County Health Officer, said the state has taken a public health approach to the opioid crisis since it started.

"I think we've seen a very steady, continued decline in the overall prescribing of opioids, overdose deaths from prescription opioids for sure, but all opioids as well, unlike almost all other states," Shames said.

According to the Oregon Health Authority website, Jackson, Josephine and Klamath Counties are all currently seeing a decline in Opioid deaths.

Dr. Katrina Hedberg, Oregon State Health Officer, said those declines may seem like opioid deaths are falling overall, but there's no way to prove medical marijuana is the cause of it.

"In Oregon, we've had medical marijuana available since 1997, but our opioid deaths increased up until the late 2000s and have only started to decline since about 2008," Hedberg said. "So we have seen a decline since then, but I cannot make a direct correlation since those deaths were going up even when we had medical marijuana."

Hedberg also said the studies are ecological, which means two things may be happening at the same time, but that does not mean one is causing the other.

Dr. Shames said Oregon has been aggressively working to combat the opioid crisis, and he believes all that work is paying off.

"I think we can see that affect in Oregon, so I think the study both addresses the issue of marijuana but maybe indirectly is kind of patting us on the back and saying good work Oregon, great public health work," Shames said.

Kenyon said he agrees the state has done a good job.

"But there's a lot more that we can do to kind of get this awareness out, put controls over the amount of opioids that are being prescribed by our physicians and show those alternatives such as a non-toxic substance like cannabis," Kenyon said.

You can click here  to read the full study.

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