Opioid painkillers are a $9.6 billion industry in the U.S., a business that helped to give rise to an addiction problem that has prompted action from the Justice Department and Congress. But it’s not just the painkillers themselves that have bolstered pharmaceutical industry profits — drugs that treat opioid addiction and help remedy the side effects are a multi-billion-dollar industry in their own right.
Addiction, overdose, and side effects are each worth at least $1 billion in sales per year, reports the Washington Post.
Various studies have shown that legalizing medical marijuana reduces opioid addiction, overdose, and side effects. (Not to mention medical marijuana is frequently used as a substitute for opioids for pain relief.)
A 2014 study found that passing medical cannabis laws were associated with “significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.” A study from earlier this year that used data on Medicare prescription spending found that access to legal medical cannabis had a significant effect on prescription drug use. A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that states with medical cannabis dispensaries saw a decrease in opioid addiction and overdose deaths.
Not only would legal medical cannabis affect opioid sales in the U.S., but it would disrupt the other markets that thrive off of opioid use. Indeed, its side effects have become such a big problem that an ad for opioid-induced constipation aired during the Super Bowl this year.
Do these studies that show medical marijuana’s efficacy hold up under scrutiny?
The health publication Stat delved into the evidence and concluded that “after a state legalizes medical marijuana, and especially after dispensaries start operating, opioid deaths fall.”
Health economist Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, who led one of the studies, told Stat that the researchers “put this through the econometric wringer.” Her team concluded that there was “strong, consistent evidence” that access to medical cannabis led to a reduction in opioid-related deaths.