Study: Opioid-Related Deaths Decrease after Colorado Legalization

According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, cannabis legalization in Colorado has led to a 6.5 percent decrease in opioid-related deaths, equaling .7 percent decrease in opioid deaths per month.

“This reduction represents a reversal of the upward trend in opioid-related deaths in Colorado,” the authors wrote concluded in the study titled “Recreational Cannabis Legalization and Opioid-Related Deaths in Colorado 2000-2015,” published in the American Journal of Public Health, and online Oct. 11.

According to a Washington Post outline of the study, the researchers examined opioid-related death trends before and after Colorado’s adult-use laws took effect, attempting to isolate medical from recreational markets by comparing Colorado to Nevada, which did not allow adult-use cannabis use in 2014, as Colorado did. The team purports a 95 percent confidence level.

The study is the latest to support numerous others finding cannabis could be used as an exit drug for opioid use disorders. A HelloMD and University of California Berkeley survey of nearly 3,000 patients earlier this year found 97 percent of participants agreed that they could decrease their opioid use when using cannabis. A University of British Columbia and University of Victoria study published in February found 30 percent of medical cannabis patients were using cannabis instead of opioid-based prescriptions. In May, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health updated their website to reflect NIDA research reflecting correlations “between marijuana legalization and adverse outcomes associated with prescription opioids” which found that states with legal cannabis access see lower levels of opioid prescribing, non-medical opioid use, and less opioid-associated hospital admissions.

“Notably, the reduction in deaths was present only in states with dispensaries (not just medical marijuana laws) and was greater in states with active dispensaries,” the new section states. “Though none of these studies are definitive, they cumulatively suggest that medical marijuana products may have a role in reducing the use of opioids needed to control pain. More research is needed to investigate this possibility.”

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