New Research Links State Medical Cannabis Laws With A Reduction In Opioid Prescription Filling In Medicare Patients

adam wong · April 12, 2018

New research from the Department of Public Administration & Policy from the University of Georgia, Athens published in The Journal of the American Medical Association observed a statistically significant reduction in the prescribing of pain medication (opioid and nonopioid collectively) in Medicare Part D and Medicaid populations when states approve medical cannabis laws.

While the association between prescribing patterns for opioids in Medicare Part D and the implementation of medical cannabis laws is not well understood, scientists have been able to demonstrate a reduction of patient filled daily doses of any opioid in states with a medical cannabis law.

It has been noted that the specific type of medical cannabis laws play a significant part in actual outcomes as well. States with an active dispensary location model saw 3.74 million fewer daily doses of opioid painkillers filled; while states with home cultivation only medical cannabis laws saw 1.79 million fewer filled daily doses.

The team performed a longitudinal analysis of the daily doses of opioids filled in Medicare Part D for all opioids as a group and for categories of opioids by state and state-level medical cannabis laws from 2010 through 2015. By observing patient behavior throughout this time period, the team was able to measure the total number of daily opioid doses prescribed in each US state and compare the number with the implementation timeline of medical cannabis laws on that same population.

With opioid-related mortality increasing almost 320% for the period 2000 through 2015, medical cannabis policies may be one mechanism that can encourage lower prescription opioid use and become a harm abatement tool in the opioid crisis. The data suggests that the use of opioid pain medication decreases in Medicare D and Medicaid populations when states approve medical cannabis laws.