Medicare, Medicaid Opioid Scripts Decline in Medical Marijuana States

Action Points Two new studies show that opioid prescriptions declined in Medicare and Medicaid populations in states that have legalized medical marijuana, providing empirical evidence that the implementation of medical and adult-use marijuana laws, and cannabis availability, reduce opioid overuse. Note that previous data showed that illicit cannabis use was associated with increased opioid use and opioid use disorder, suggesting the association between illicit cannabis use and opioid use may be different than that of legalized cannabis use and opioids.

Two studies published in JAMA Internal Medicine show that opioid prescriptions declined in states that have legalized medical marijuana, adding new fuel to the debate over whether medical cannabis availability reduces opioid overuse.

Medicare Part D opioid prescriptions fell by 2.21 million daily doses per year when state medical cannabis laws went into effect, compared with states not having such laws, reported W. David Bradford, PhD, of the University of Georgia in Athens, and colleagues.

And medical and recreational cannabis laws were associated with annual reductions of 5.88% and 6.38%, respectively, in Medicaid opioid prescribing rates, also in comparison with states where marijuana use remains illegal, according to Hefei Wen, PhD, of the University of Kentucky in Lexington and Jason Hockenberry, PhD, of Emory University in Atlanta.

“Our study provides some of the first empirical evidence that the implementation of medical and adult-use marijuana laws between 2011 and 2016 was associated with lower opioid prescribing rates and spending among Medicaid enrollees, a high-risk population for chronic pain, opioid use disorder, and opioid overdose,” Wen told MedPage Today.

“There seems to be a significant change to opioid use, particularly hydrocodone and morphine, in Medicare Part D patients when they have access to cannabis as medicine,” added Bradford.

While states grapple with drug policies,

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