The opiate crisis in the United States has gotten worse in recent years, with the death toll continuing to rise. However, a new study suggests that there could be a significant correlation between the legalization of cannabis and a reduction in opiate-related deaths.
The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health, and it found a 6.5 percent decrease in opiate-related deaths on a monthly basis in Colorado, starting in the year 2014 – the same year Amendment 64 (legalizing cannabis) went into place. Prior to that, the number of deaths had been steadily rising for over a decade.
“Legalization of cannabis in Colorado was associated with short-term reductions in opioid-related deaths,” the American Journal of Public Health paper concludes. “As additional data become available, research should replicate these analyses in other states with legal recreational cannabis.”
The team of authors, which included researchers from University of North Texas Health Science Center, the University of Florida, and Emory University in Atlanta, looked at prescription deaths from opiate painkillers in Colorado from 2000 to 2015 and compared those numbers to nearby states Nevada and Utah.
They also considered changes that the state of Colorado took to strengthen their monitoring of prescription drugs and reduce addiction rates. It appears, however, that the real change happened after recreational cannabis went on sale.
The authors wrote that any other explanations would have had to occur around the same time that legal sales started, and have had a disproportionate impact in Colorado compared to neighboring states.
“These initial results clearly show that continuing research is warranted as data become available, involving longer follow-ups and additional states that have legalized recreational cannabis,” the authors of the study wrote, the Denver Post reported.
While not everyone agrees with the authors, preferring to believe there is no correlation between legalizing the sale of cannabis and reduced opiate overdose deaths, this study points to that possibly being the truth of the matter.
Previous studies have found that states with medical marijuana access for chronic pain sufferers have seen around a 25 percent decrease in opioid-related deaths. This study only further suggests that having safe and legal access to cannabis could help reduce – or even resolve – the opioid epidemic we are currently facing. Now that more states have legalized, further studies will be possible until this correlation has either been proven or disproven to be causation for the reduced opioid-related deaths.