A University of Georgia public policy study released Wednesday shows seniors and disabled persons in states that have legalized medical marijuana used significantly less FDA-approved prescription drug medication from 2010 to 2013.
The report, entitled “Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Prescription Medication Use in Medicare Part D“, estimated a total cost savings to the Medicare prescription drug program of $165.2 million in 2013 alone in the 17 states and the District of Columbia, which allow legal use of marijuana for certain ailments including pain, sleep disorders, glaucoma, anxiety and depression.
Results also showed a decrease in pharmaceutical prescriptions for all nine conditions accounted for except glaucoma; an 11 percent decline in opioid dosage prescribed per doctor after marijuana was legalized for medical use.
More significantly, research published in 2014 showed that overdose deaths caused by painkillers had plummeted almost 25 percent in medical marijuana states. A total of 2 million Americans abused or were addicted to opioids that same year, and 165,000 have died from overdoses in the U.S. since 1999.
“The results suggest people are really using marijuana as medicine and not just using it for recreational purposes,” the study’s lead author, Ashley Bradford, said in a statement.
In terms of fiscal impact, the study released last week estimates that if all 50 states adopted medical marijuana laws, Medicare savings would be an estimated $468 million per year.
Under federal law, Medicare and private health insurers do not cover any of the costs associated with medical marijuana prescriptions.
Critics of the findings cite questionable quality of care at marijuana clinics and limited research into marijuana’s true effectiveness in relieving certain ailments, which could ultimately cause a net increase in drug costs after patients switch back to mainstream prescription medication.
Medical sociologist and director of the Center for Substance Abuse Studies, Sheigla Murphy, however, argues that seniors prefer marijuana to traditional painkillers and other medications because “it fits with the problems of older age, problems with sleeping, depression, arthritis, worn-out body parts that begin to hurt. Marijuana can relieve these without the side effects of grogginess and worrying about addiction.”
It should be noted that America’s northern neighbor, Canada, adopted a policy for legalized medical marijuana in 2001, which accounted for 22 percent of all prescription drug subsidies in fiscal year 2015-2016.
Canadian Parliament is expected to debate legislation to legalize the drug’s recreational use in the spring of 2017.
[Reuters] [CBC] [Photo courtesy wctv.tv]