Jury Finds Pharmacy Chains Contributed to Ohio’s Opioid Crisis

A federal jury in Ohio on Tuesday found that pharmacy giants Walgreens, CVS and Walmart contributed to the opioid crisis in that state, a verdict that could serve as a bellwether for thousands of similar cases pending from coast to coast. The decision is the first verdict returned by a jury that holds a pharmacy retailer responsible for its role in the devastating epidemic of opioid overdoses that has plagued the United States for decades.

In the lawsuit, Lake and Trumbell Counties in northeastern Ohio maintained that the pharmacy retailers had recklessly distributed more than 100 million opioid pain pills in the counties, leading to addiction, death and a strain on public services. Between 2012 and 2016, more than 80 million prescriptions painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County alone, or about 400 pills for every resident. During the same period, approximately 61 million opioid painkillers were dispensed in Lake County.

“For decades, pharmacy chains have watched as the pills flowing out of their doors cause harm and failed to take action as required by law,” a committee of attorneys representing local governments in federal opioid lawsuits said in a statement. “Instead, these companies responded by opening up more locations, flooding communities with pills, and facilitating the flow of opioids into an illegal, secondary market.”

Counties Say Pharmacies Created a Public Nuisance

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the actions of the pharmacies amounted to a public nuisance that cost the counties about $1 billion each to address. Mark Lanier, an attorney representing the counties, said that the pharmacies failed to hire or train enough employees and implement systems to prevent suspicious orders from being filled.

“The law requires pharmacies to be diligent in dealing drugs,” Lanier said. “This case should be a wake-up call that failure will not be accepted.” 

“The jury sounded a bell that should be heard through all pharmacies in America,” he added.

The suit originally also named pharmacy retailers Rite-Aid and Giant Eagle as plaintiffs in the case. Rite-Aid settled in August and agreed to pay Trumbull County $1.5 million in damages, while a settlement amount with Lake County has not been released. Giant Eagle agreed to settle late last month, although terms of that agreement were not disclosed.

The case, which was decided by a 12-person jury after a six-week trial, was returned in one of about 3,000 federal opioid lawsuits being supervised by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland. Adam Zimmerman, who teaches mass litigation at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that the verdict could prompt other pharmaceutical retailers to settle their pending cases.

“It’s the first opioid trial against these major household names,” Zimmerman told the New York Times. “They have been the least willing group of defendants to settle, so this verdict is at least a small sign to them that these cases won’t necessarily play out well in front of juries.”

Pharmacy Chains Will Appeal Verdict

All three retailers have indicated that they will appeal the jury’s verdict. Walmart said in a statement that the plaintiffs’ attorneys sued “in search of deep pockets while ignoring the real causes of the opioid crisis—such as pill mill doctors, illegal drugs, and regulators asleep at the switch—and they wrongly claimed pharmacists must second-guess doctors in a way the law never intended and many federal and state health regulators say interferes with the doctor-patient relationship.”

Walgreens spokesperson Fraser Engerman characterized the case as an unsustainable effort “to resolve the opioid crisis with an unprecedented expansion of public nuisance law,” adding that the company “never manufactured or marketed opioids nor did we distribute them to the ‘pill mills’ and internet pharmacies that fueled this crisis.”

“As plaintiffs’ own experts testified, many factors have contributed to the opioid abuse issue, and solving this problem will require involvement from all stakeholders in our health care system and all members of our community,” CVS spokesperson Mike DeAngelis said in a statement after the verdict was announced.

The retail pharmacies are not alone in their criticism of the verdict. Dr. Ryan Marino, an assistant professor of the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Psychiatry at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, says that focusing on blaming the pharmaceutical industry, prescribers, and pharmacies ignores the role that bad policies have played in the opioid crisis.

“If retail pharmacies are declared responsible, I ask that we also hold policymakers responsible for their role in driving people to foreseeable death and failing to act to prevent disordered substance use or addiction by failing to provide access to safety in addition to basic things like housing, education, employment, and income, which are well known to prevent addiction in the first place,” Marino wrote in an email to High Times. “The same old approaches have not helped this problem, and in fact, seem to be only making it worse.”

Some drug manufacturers and distributors including Johnson & Johnson have also opted to settle cases brought against them for their alleged contributions to the opioid crisis, which has killed more than 500,000 Americans over the past twenty years. Kevin Roy, chief public policy officer at addiction solutions advocacy group Shatterproof, said that Tuesday’s verdict could prompt other pharmacies to consider a settlement.

“It’s a signal that the public, at least in select places, feels that there’s been exposure and needs to be remedied,” Roy said.

Roy noted, however, that the different courts hearing opioid cases have not been consistent in their judgments and that the details of public nuisance laws vary from state to state. Earlier this month, a California judge ruled in favor of drug manufacturers in a case brought by the city of Oakland and three counties. And in Oklahoma on November 9, the state Supreme Court overturned a 2019 verdict for $465 million against Johnson & Johnson.

“There’s been a variety of different decisions lately that should give us reason to be cautious about what this really means in the grand scheme,” Roy said.

Just how much Walgreens, CVS and Walmart will have to pay Trumbull and Lake Counties remains to be seen. The judge is expected to issue a decision on damages to be awarded in the case in the spring.

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U.S. Reports More Than 100,000 Overdose Deaths In One Year

More than 100,000 people succumbed to overdose deaths in the United States in the span of a year, a record death toll that underscores the continuing failure of the War on Drugs to keep the nation safe.

During the 12-month period ending April 2021, 100,306 Americans died of drug overdoses, according to provisional data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday. Federal officials point to the coronavirus pandemic and the proliferation of powerful synthetic opioids including fentanyl as major contributors to the spike in overdose deaths over the past two years.

“These are numbers we have never seen before,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the New York Times. Commenting on the human toll behind the statistics, Volkow noted that a majority of the deaths occurred among people aged 25 to 55.

“They leave behind friends, family and children, if they have children, so there are a lot of downstream consequences,” Dr. Volkow said. “This is a major challenge to our society.”

Overdose Deaths Add to Covid-19’s Toll

During the same time period, approximately 509,000 died from Covid-19 in the United States, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University, while millions were left isolated due to quarantines and business closures. Volkow noted that the pandemic also led to border shutdowns that made powerful synthetic opioids including fentanyl easier to smuggle into the country than naturally produced but less potent and thus more bulky drugs including morphine and heroin.

“What we’re seeing are the effects of these patterns of crisis and the appearance of more dangerous drugs at much lower prices,” Volkow said to CNN. “In a crisis of this magnitude, those already taking drugs may take higher amounts and those in recovery may relapse. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen and perhaps could have predicted.”

The new data, representing deaths from May 2020 through April 2021, reflects a 28.5 percent increase in the number of fatal overdoses in the United States compared to the same time period one year earlier and the first time deaths have exceeded 100,000 in one year. Synthetic opioids including fentanyl were up 49 percent over the year before, contributing to the vast majority (64 percent) of overdose deaths. Stimulants including methamphetamines were involved in about a quarter of overdose deaths, a jump of 48 percent over the previous year. The data also show more modest increases in the number of overdose deaths caused by natural opioids, cocaine and prescription medications.

Dr. Volkow said that while some drug users intentionally seek out fentanyl, others “may not have wanted to take it. But that is what is being sold, and the risk of overdose is very high.”

The pandemic also decreased the availability and access to treatment for substance use disorders. As the country reopens and life begins to return to normal, overdose deaths are likely to remain high if access to drug treatment and other interventions is not improved, experts says.

“Even if Covid went away tomorrow, we’d still have a problem. What will have an impact is dramatic improvement to access to treatment,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, medical director of opioid policy research at the Brandeis University Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

“These are deaths in people with a preventable, treatable condition. The United States continues to fail on both fronts, both on preventing opioid addiction and treating addiction,” he continued, adding that President Joe Biden should act on his campaign promises to address the continuing opioid crisis.

Access to Treatment Saves Lives

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy on Wednesday released model legislation to serve as a guideline for states to pass laws that increase access to naloxone, a life-saving drug that can reverse opioid overdoses. Other medications including buprenorphine can be prescribed to help those with opioid use disorder, but access to the drugs is also often limited. In October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a plan to combat drug overdoses, including federal support for harm reduction and recovery services and provisions that lessen barriers to substance abuse treatment.

“If we really want to turn the corner, we have to get to a point where treatment for opioid addiction is easier to access than fentanyl, heroin, or prescription opioids are,” Kolodny said.

Beth Connolly, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts substance use prevention and treatment initiative, said that improving access to drug treatment and emergency interventions can help bring down the spike in overdose deaths.

“The evidence is really clear that using medications to treat opioid addiction disorders saves lives,” said Connolly. “As we see more and more evidence that (medication) does save lives, that will hopefully reduce stigmatizing and categorizing in favor of supporting individuals.”

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Canadian Groups Gives Free Weed And Edibles To Fight Opioid Abuse

Volunteer groups in Canada are providing relief to people struggling with addiction by giving away free marijuana and cannabis edibles as a substitution for opioids. Addiction experts, however, are wary that the unproven treatment might prevent people with opioid use disorder from seeking evidence-based therapies that have proven to be effective.

In London, Ontario, volunteers with the Cannabis Substitution Program set up a table outside a church each Tuesday to distribute packages of free cannabis and edibles to people who use drugs. Members of the group maintain that high doses of THC, as much as 100 milligrams baked into an edible, can serve as a substitute for opioids and other dangerous drugs while treating the symptoms of withdrawal. 

Since launching in April, the program has been popular, with up to 200 people showing up each week and forming a line that stretches down the block. Members of the group say that the cannabis it distributes is paid for and donated by private individuals.

Stefan Nichol, outreach director at Impact Church and a supporter of the substitution program, said that while cannabis is not a definitive treatment for opioid addiction and withdrawal, it can provide relief to those trying to break the cycle of drug abuse.

“To be honest, weed will never cure dope sickness,” Nichol told the CBC. “But it does help people sleep through a day of it.”

Cannabis Substitution Program volunteer Mary McCarty said that organizers began holding the weekly events to help address the city’s opioid epidemic after learning of similar initiatives in Vancouver, British Columbia and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“I thought, ‘You know what? London needs one of these,’” McCarty said. “It’s ridiculous what’s going on.”

In Halifax, volunteers with the East Coast Cannabis Substitution Program put together packages of cannabis to be handed out to people who use drugs every Monday. When CBC News visited the group at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, each package included a roll-your-own joint kit, a cannabis gummy, THC capsules, and edibles including chocolate, cookies and a meatloaf slider.

Volunteer Chris Backer, who travels to the city’s north end each week to hand out the packages, says that he believes the donations can help people quit more dangerous drugs. 

“It’s breaking the cycle of addiction,” he said last year. “Cannabis has been documented to be very successful and is an adjunct to try to help beat addiction.”

Addiction Experts Skeptical of Weed and Edibles as Substitute

Addiction experts including Steven Laviolette, professor in the School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University in London, however, are skeptical of using cannabis for those struggling with opioid abuse.

“I’m not aware of any evidence to suggest that would be effective as a substitute for opioid-related dependence and addiction,” he said.

But Laviolette acknowledged that cannabis may have a place in treating some forms of addiction. He has conducted research into the use of CBD as a treatment for amphetamine addiction.

“We were able to show that it quite literally blocked the activation of these drugs on the dopamine neurons, so the neurons would stop firing in the presence of CBD,” he said. “That has really strong implications for CBD as an anti-addiction treatment.”

Laviolette noted that researchers in the U.S. are also studying CBD’s potential as a treatment for opioid addiction. But he says that THC may pose a risk to some people with addiction disorders.

“THC has been shown to cause overactivation of addiction pathways in the brain,” he said. “It could make it even worse because THC would be ramping up the brain’s addiction pathways and could potentially make problems like relapse and withdrawal an even greater issue for people suffering with opioid dependence.”

Dr. Samuel Hickcox, the physician lead for addictions medicine at Nova Scotia Health, said that the cannabis substitution programs do not have “high-quality scientific evidence” to support their effectiveness. He fears that people will turn to cannabis instead of medications that have been proven to be an effective treatment for opioid addiction.

“That really worries me because we know that people who have an opioid addiction, if they are on medications like Suboxone or methadone, that their health will improve. They’re much less likely to have fatal overdoses,” he said. “If we take that away from people by offering an unproven alternative, we run the risk of actually causing more harm than benefit.”

McCarty, however, says that she has witnessed how the gifts of cannabis can positively impact those struggling with addiction.

“People come and thank us all the time,” she said.

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MLB to treat cannabis like alcohol, and instead test for opioids

Major League Baseball announced Thursday, in a joint drug agreement between the MLB and the players’ association, that it will start testing for opioids and cocaine, but only players who do not co-operate with their treatment plans will be subject to discipline. Additionally, in a significant shift, cannabis will be removed from the list of […]

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Doctors Are Increasingly Tapering Patients From Opioid Medications

A new study out this month shows that doctors are increasingly tapering their patients off powerful opioid medications, perhaps so fast that they are putting them at risk. Results of the study, “Trends and Rapidity of Dose Tapering Among Patients Prescribed Long-term Opioid Therapy, 2008-2017,” were published by the journal JAMA on November 15.

“We wanted to understand how often opioid dose tapering happens, how rapidly patients’ doses were being reduced when tapering, and which patients were more likely to have doses tapered,” said lead author Joshua Fenton, a professor of family and community medicine.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued new guidelines on the prescribing of opioid medications in response to the continuing rash of overdoses and deaths that has plagued the country for more than two decades. The guidelines suggested that patients be slowly weaned off opioid medications by reducing the dosage at a rate of ten percent per week or less.

However, some doctors and hospitals have been reducing some patients’ doses more aggressively than federal guidelines, by as much as 15% or more for one-fifth of the patients in the study. In 2008, only 10.5% were being tapered off of opioids that quickly.

Reducing Opioid Use Too Quickly Has Risks

“Stigma and safety fears have made daily dose tapering of opioid prescriptions more common,” wrote Science Daily in a summary of the study. “New research, however, shows tapering can occur at rates as much as six times higher than recommended, putting patients at risk of withdrawal, uncontrolled pain or mental health crises.”

Alicia Agnoli, an assistant professor of family and community medicine and another of the study’s authors, said that tapering plans should be tailored to each patient in order to avoid complications.

“Tapering plans should be based on the needs and histories of each patient and adjusted as needed to avoid adverse outcomes,” said Agnoli. “Unfortunately, a lot of tapering occurs due to policy pressures and a rush to get doses below a specific and sometimes arbitrary threshold. That approach can be detrimental in the long run.”

The study also found that some demographic groups were treated differently than others in the development of tapering plans to reduce the use of opioid medications. Patients who were young, women, minorities, people on higher doses of opioids, people who had recently overdosed, and people on commercial insurance were all more likely to be subject to more aggressive tapering. Dan Laird, a pain physician and medical malpractice attorney, said in a statement that these trends in the tapering of opioid medications are unfair for chronic pain patients, who he says are not responsible for the ongoing opioid epidemic.

“This study confirms that many chronic pain patients are receiving substandard care,” said Laird. “The opioid crisis is largely driven by illegal fentanyl and heroin, yet chronic pain patients continue to be victimized.”

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$3 million in Grants Given to Study Cannabinoids as Opioid Alternative

The federal government has awarded $3 million in grants for research into the therapeutic benefits of ingredients in marijuana other than THC, emphasizing their potential as alternatives to prescription opioids.

In a notice published on Sept. 18, 2019, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explained why the studies were necessary and listed grant recipients and the subjects they will investigate. That includes research into the use of cannabidiol (CBD) for arthritis pain, which will be led by New York University School of Medicine.

“The treatment of chronic pain has relied heavily on opioids, despite their potential for addiction and overdose and the fact that they often don’t work well when used on a long-term basis,” Helene Langevin, director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), said in a press release. “There’s an urgent need for more effective and safer options.”

A total of nine grants were issued, with the NIH stating that the funds will help identify alternative treatment options for pain and provide information about the impact of consuming cannabis compounds such as CBD and other lesser-known cannabinoids as well as terpenes found in the plant.

“The cannabis plant contains more than 110 cannabinoids and 120 terpenes, but the only compound that’s been studied extensively is THC,” the press release said.

But while THC is known to treat certain forms of pain, the NIH is concerned that its intoxicating effects limit its medical applicability.

“THC may help relieve pain, but its value as an analgesic is limited by its psychoactive effects and abuse potential,” said David Shurtleff, deputy director of the NCCIH. “These new projects will investigate substances from cannabis that don’t have THC’s disadvantages, looking at their basic biological activity and their potential mechanisms of action as pain relievers.”

The NIH first announced that it would be issuing grants for studies into minor cannabinoids and terpenes in 2018.

Federal health agencies aren’t the only institutions interested in learning about marijuana compounds other than THC. On Sept. 18, 2019, a Senate committee issued a spending report that called for research into CBD and cannabigerol (CBG) while also criticizing the federal drug scheduling system for inhibiting such research.


Featured Image: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded $3 million to New York University School of Medicine and other research institutions to study how cannabidiol (CBD) and other non-THC cannabinoids can alleviate pain. (Gina Coleman/Weedmaps)

This article was republished from Marijuana Moment under a content syndication agreement. Read the original article here.

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Legal Marijuana Leads to Fewer Opioid Deaths, Studies Conclude

Two new studies find that opioid-related deaths decline when states legalize access to marijuana. In fact, when adult-use cannabis laws are in place, the rate of opioid overdoses declines by at least 20%.

Both papers, published in the journal Economic Inquiry, not only show the impact of passing such laws, but also how dispensaries play a role in helping to quell these deaths.

The first study, helmed by researchers in Massachusetts and Colorado, claims to be the first to show the causal effects of access to recreational cannabis on opioid-related deaths.

“We find that marijuana legalization causes a significant decline in opioid mortality — especially deaths from synthetic opioids — with particularly pronounced benefits in states that have legalized recreational usage,” the study’s authors write. “Yet it is not legalization, per se, that produces these gains; rather, states that have legal access via dispensaries see the largest reductions in mortality.”

“We estimate that [recreational marijuana laws] reduce annual opioid mortality in the range of 20% – 35%, with particularly pronounced effects for synthetic opioids.”

The study used three main sources of data: death rates involving all opiates, prescription opioids, and synthetic opioids from January 1999 through the end of 2017; the history of marijuana legalization in each state (including when legislation was passed and when dispensaries opened for business) and state-level demographic information. During the study period, 29 states had approved medical cannabis, while recreational marijuana was legalized in eight states plus the District of Columbia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of opioid-related deaths has increased six times over between 1999 and 2017. Additionally, 36% of the 47,600 opioid overdoses in 2017 involved prescription opioids.

The authors of two studies on marijuana reducing opioid-related deaths weren’t able to pinpoint the cause of the reductions, but past and recent research suggest the availability of marijuana serves as a substitute for opioids. (Photo by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps)

After running several statistical and mathematical models that included checks to ensure their results were consistent, the study’s authors found that broader adult-use laws reduce a state’s opioid death rate between 20% for all opiates and prescription opioids to 35% for synthetic opioids.

“Recreational marijuana laws affect a much larger population than medical marijuana laws, yet we know relatively little about their effects,” study co-author Nathan W. Chan, Ph.D., said in a press release. “Focusing on the recent wave of recreational marijuana laws in the U.S., we find that opioid mortality rates drop when recreational marijuana becomes widely available via dispensaries.”

“Our estimates are sizable,” the study itself states. “For reference, the average never-legalizer state has 4.82 fatalities per 100,000 people from All Opiates (Synthetic Opioids) annually, while for the average [medical marijuana law] state, these are 6.067 and 0.856 per 100,000 people. Thus, our estimates imply annual reductions in All Opioid mortality between 1.01 and 1.27 deaths per 100,000 people for non-[recreational marijuana law] states, on average. For a state with a population of 5 million (near the nationwide median), this would save on the order of 50 lives per year, or roughly 10 averted deaths from Synthetic Opioids alone.”

Those are conservative estimates, the authors add.

Additionally, models showed that white people and women saw the highest reductions in synthetic opioid deaths in states that legalized recreational cannabis: Whites experienced a 32% decrease, while the statistical effect for women was larger and “highly statistically significant” compared with what they found for men.

The authors did not identify what mechanism is responsible for this reduction in mortality rates, though past research suggests people who can legally access marijuana may substitute it for opioids. A recent study, for example, found the majority of people who shopped at cannabis retail shops reported using marijuana to help with pain and sleep.

The new study’s authors do stress, however, that the causal effect they identified is “highly robust.”

“Our bedrock findings remain unmoved by variations in modeling assumptions and selections of control variables, and our findings are further corroborated through placebo tests,” they write. “Our results show that there are substantial ancillary benefits to marijuana legalization, especially [recreational marijuana laws], and they offer important food for thought as many states continue to contemplate expansions to both medical and recreational marijuana access.”

Their findings support a growing body of research that has linked the availability of medical marijuana dispensaries with a drop in the rate of local opioid-related deaths.

In fact, that was the focus of the second cannabis-related study published recently in Economic Inquiry. According to its findings, after a medical cannabis dispensary opened in a county, prescription opioid deaths fell locally by approximately 11%. These results, the author writes, suggest “a substitutability between marijuana and opioids.”

“Furthermore,” the study concludes, “the unintended beneficial effects of allowing for marijuana dispensary operations should be considered by policymakers as they aim to curtail narcotic abuse and limit the impact of the opioid epidemic.”


Feature image: Adult-use marijuana policies helped to reduce opioid-related mortality rates in marijuana-legal states between 20% and 35%, a study published in the journal Economic Inquiry has found. (Gina Coleman/Weedmaps)

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Study: Colorado’s Drop in Opioid Distribution Followed Legal Marijuana

Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, the number of opioid prescriptions for pain fell significantly compared with two states where access to cannabis for adult-use is still illegal, a new study found.

While a robust body of research has demonstrated a link between legal access to medical marijuana and lower use of opioids, less is known about how broader adult-use laws affect the prescribing rates of pharmaceuticals used for pain management. Researchers at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in Pennsylvania and the University of New England in Maine were interested in addressing this gap in the literature.

For their analysis, they chose to compare Colorado with Maryland and Utah based on the fact that those two states are similar to the first-to-legalize jurisdiction in different ways: While Maryland has similar demographics in terms of population size, home ownership, education level and uninsured rates, Utah was the most geographically similar state with comparable body mass index (BMI) and median household income.

According to the study’s findings, which were pre-published on bioRxiv in July 2019 and have yet to be peer-reviewed: “Colorado had a larger decrease in opioid distribution after 2012 than Utah or Maryland. Therefore, marijuana could be considered as an alternative treatment for chronic pain and reducing use of opioids.”

“There has been a significant decrease in the prescription opioid distribution after the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.”


There has been a significant decrease in the prescription opioid distribution after the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.
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Using data from a federal program managed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to keep an eye on the distribution of certain narcotics, the study’s authors looked at the prescription rates from 2007 to 2017 for nine opioid pain medications (oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, tapentadol, codeine, and meperidine) and two medications used to treat opioid use disorder (methadone and buprenorphine) in the three states. For a baseline comparison, they converted the amount of each drug distributed into what the equivalent would be in a dose of oral morphine in milligrams (MME).

According to the study’s analysis, Maryland had the highest amount of total pharmaceuticals distributed during the study period: In 2011, the weight of all 11 opioids peaked at 12,167 kilograms MME. That amount was more than twice the weight determined in Colorado and Utah, which peaked at 5,029 kilograms MME in 2012 and 3,429 kilograms in 2015, respectively. The two narcotics distributed the most in all three states were oxycodone and methadone.

When researchers looked specifically at medications prescribed to help people who misuse opioids — that is, methadone and buprenorphine — they found Utah had cut back by 31% over the study period. Colorado and Maryland both increased these prescriptions by 19% and 67%, respectively.

For pain medications specifically, Utah had lower rates in every year and in every drug compared with Colorado. However, its prescription rate increased by almost 10% over time. Meanwhile, Colorado’s prescribing rates decreased by about 12% during the decade studied, while Maryland saw a decrease of 6%.

“This finding was particularly notable for opioids indicated predominantly for analgesia such as hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl.”

“Colorado and Maryland experienced an overall decrease in opioid distribution, but Colorado’s decrease was larger,” the study states. “While the nation as a whole was experiencing a decrease in opioid distribution, it was promising that Colorado’s greater decrease gives consideration to the potential impact of recreational marijuana.”


While the nation as a whole was experiencing a decrease in opioid distribution…Colorado’s greater decrease gives consideration to the potential impact of recreational marijuana.
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It’s unclear why Colorado saw such a significant drop in prescriptions for pain medication, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Colorado legalized marijuana for adult use in 2012. Recent research also shows that many customers purchase marijuana from recreational dispensaries for the same reasons medical cannabis patients do: to help with pain and sleep.

There may be other variables at play, however, including guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2016 to address prescribing narcotics for chronic pain, the study stated. Additionally, Maryland lawmakers passed a medical cannabis law in 2013, while Utah voters didn’t approve medical access until 2018.

Importantly, the authors say that lawmakers “have the duty” to consider other options to address the opioid crisis, including “marijuana as a treatment option for chronic pain.”

“If there is an initial reduction in opioid distributions in states with recreational marijuana laws, it is conceivable that opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose deaths could also fall,” they conclude. “Therefore, it may be time to reconsider the practice of automatically discharging patients from pain treatment centers for positive marijuana screens, considering this use might actually reduce their overall opioid use.”


Feature Image: Legalizing marijuana may be a key factor in reducing prescription opioid use and abuse, according to findings in a new study. (Gina Coleman/Weedmaps News)

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