Legalized Marijuana Will Reduce Prescription Drug Use By Billions

July 15, 2016

A well-known fact still denied by conventional medicine is that marijuana saves lives by curbing highly addictive prescription painkillers known to kill tens of thousands every year. In fact, drug overdoses by prescription opioids kills more people than suicide, guns or motor vehicle accidents. University of Georgia researchers have now found that implementing medical marijuana could also reduce Medicare costs by billions.

There is an abundance of evidence that the suppression of medical marijuana is one of the greatest failures of a free society, journalistic and scientific integrity as well as our fundamental values. There is no plant on Earth more condemned than marijuana.

There is solid evidence that marijuana is effective at treating one big condition: chronic pain. There is at least a 30% greater improvement in pain with cannabinoid compared with placebo across hundreds of studies.

Some studies have examined the effect of adding a cannabinoid to the regimen of patients with chronic pain who report significant pain despite taking stable doses of potent opioids.

An investigational cannabinoid therapy helped provide effective analgesia when used as an adjuvant medication for cancer patients with pain that responded poorly to opioids, according to results of a multicenter trial reported in The Journal of Pain, published by the American Pain Society.

A NBER working paper found that access to state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries is linked to a significant decrease in both prescription painkiller abuse, and in overdose deaths from prescription painkillers. The study authors examined admissions to substance abuse treatment programs for opiate addiction as well as opiate overdose deaths in states that do and do not have medical marijuana laws.

Medical marijuana is having a positive impact on the bottom line of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit program in states that have legalized its use for medicinal purposes, according to University of Georgia researchers in a study published in the July issue of Health Affairs.

The savings, due to lower prescription drug use, were estimated to be $165.2 million in 2013, a year when 17 states and the District of Columbia had implemented medical marijuana laws. The results suggest that if all states had implemented medical marijuana the overall savings to Medicare would have been around $468 million. Translate those savings over a period of just one decade and the figures escalate to billions of dollars.

Compared to Medicare Part D’s 2013 budget of $103 billion, those savings would have been 0.5 percent. But it’s enough of a difference to show that, in states where it’s legal, some people are turning to the drug as an alternative to prescription medications for ailments that range from pain to sleep disorders.

Their most intriguing finding is that medical marijuana laws alone aren’t enough to cause a significant shift in prescription painkiller use. Rather, the availability of medical marijuana through licensed dispensaries is the key

Because medical marijuana is such a hot-button issue, explained study co-author W. David Bradford, who is the Busbee Chair in Public Policy in the UGA School of Public and International Affairs, their findings can give policymakers and others another tool to evaluate the pros and cons of medical marijuana legalization.

“We realized this question was an important one that nobody had yet attacked,” he said.

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