Marijuana Shows Potential in Treating Painkiller Addiction

As prescription drug addiction and related overdoses surge, lawmakers look for ways to limit access.

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Could marijuana be just what the doctor ordered to kick an addiction to opioid painkillers, the most widely prescribed class of drugs in America today?

Two reputable studies published in the last year point to this conclusion.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving painkillers in 2014. That’s roughly 40 individuals per day.

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When heroin is thrown into the mix, the death toll from opiates surpassed 28,000 people in 2014, a 14 percent increase year over year.

The rise in heroin use corresponds with an increase in prescription drug abuse over the last decade.

Prescription painkillers, for example, are involved in 68 percent of opioid overdoses treated in emergency rooms, according to the CDC and Federal Drug Administration.

The toll does not discriminate, impacting all major demographics, including women, inner-city racial minorities and suburban white youth. Sales of opioids reached nearly $2 billion in 2014.

Earlier this month, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the rate of death related to painkillers is 25 percent lower on average in states where medical marijuana use is legal compared with states where it remains prohibited.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia allow the marijuana plant to be used for medicinal purposes. And 16 states allow the use of cannabis oil without psychoactive effects to be used for certain medical conditions like epilepsy and Crohn’s disease.

And last summer, a Columbia University study found that among 60 patients, smoking marijuana was associated with successful completion an opioid detoxification program.

“Post-hoc analysis showed that the 32 percent of participants who smoked marijuana regularly during the outpatient phase had significantly lower ratings of insomnia and anxiety and were more likely to complete the 8-week trial,” the study extract reports.

Meanwhile, several states are moving to limit the prescribing of opioid painkillers like Hydrocodone and Oxycontin in an effort to limit abuse and dependence.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts, for example, passed a bill this month to restrict painkiller prescriptions to a 7-day supply. Vermont and Maine are exploring similar proposals.

And in Kentucky, opioid prescriptions dropped 8.6 percent in 2012 after doctors were required to check databases designed to weed out pill mills and doctor shopping.

Most states now have similar monitoring programs in place.

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