Do Medical Marijuana Laws Impact Opioid Use, Abuse?

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A rise in overdose deaths has previously been associated with overprescribing of opioid analgesic medications.
A rise in overdose deaths has previously been associated with overprescribing of opioid analgesic medications.

HealthDay News — A new study of drivers who died in auto accidents suggests people in states with medical marijuana laws may be using fewer opioids, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers sought to determine how laws allowing the medical use of marijuana — now legal in 25 states and Washington, D.C. — might affect the use of opioids. The team analyzed records of people who died in car crashes to see if they had tested positive for opioid use. The accidents took place in 18 states from 1999 to 2013. There were 68 394 traffic fatalities included in the study.

The researchers found that 41.8% of accidents occurred in states with medical marijuana laws in place. About one-quarter (25.4%) happened in states that had passed medical marijuana laws, but hadn't yet implemented them. And 32.8% of the accidents occurred in states without medical marijuana laws. About 1% to 8% of drivers tested positive for opioids. The researchers note that far fewer drivers in states with active medical marijuana laws died with opioids in their system.

"If you are a driver aged 21 to 40, you were about half as likely to test positive for opioids if you crashed in a state with a medical marijuana law versus if you had crashed in a state before a law was implemented," lead author June Kim, MHS, a graduate student in epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, told HealthDay.

Reference

Kim JH, Santaella-Tenorio J, Mauro C, et al. State medical marijuana laws and the prevalence of opioids detected among fatally injured drivers. Am J Public Health. 2016;15:e1-e6. [Epub ahead of print]

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