States That Have Legalized Marijuana See Drop in Prescription Drugs


According to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tens of thousands of people die every year from prescription drug use. The deaths have been steadily increasing since 2001 and as of 2014, the number of deaths have almost tripled. A recent study, that appears in Health Affairs, done by the University of Georgia’s father and daughter team, Ashley and W. David Bradford, revealed an interesting solution. The duo wanted to discover how legalized medical marijuana was affecting prescription drug use. As it turns out, in states that have legalized marijuana, prescription drug use has drastically been reduced, as patients have been using medical marijuana as their preferred treatment.

The 9 Categories of Review

Nine categories with relevancy to both prescription drugs and medical marijuana were analyzed.

The team specifically investigated the area of prescription drugs that were used to treat the same disorders that qualify for medicinal marijuana treatment. They focused on the following 9 categories; pain, anxiety, nausea, depression, sleep disorders, psychosis, seizures, spasticity and glaucoma. The team investigated how many prescriptions were filled under Medicare Part D, a government program that subsidizes prescription drug costs for Medicare patients. They examined the cost spent on medications in the 9 categories between 2010 and 2013 in states that have legalized marijuana.

A Significant Drop in Relevant Prescription Medications

What they found was very enlightening. There was a large drop in antidepressants, seizure, anti-nausea and anti-anxiety medication being prescribed by doctors. There was a very significant drop in painkillers being prescribed as well. To get a fair and accurate comparison, they also looked at the rate of prescriptions needed for blood thinners, antibiotics and drugs that are not treatable using marijuana. They found no change in the rate of prescribed drugs for non-marijuana related illnesses.

States That Have Legalized Marijuana Also Saved on Medicare

Medical marijuana is likely replacing ineffective and addictive prescription painkillers in legal states.

Another massive benefit discovered for states that have legalized marijuana, is how much money is being saved by Medicare. According to the study, Medicare saved $162.2 million in 2013 as a result of the reduction in prescription drug use in the 17 states that had legalized medical marijuana at that time. Co-author of the study, W. David Bradford is a health economist and a public policy professor at the University of Georgia, and he believes that if all states were to legalize medical marijuana, Medicare would save approximately $468 million a year.

Benefits of the Study

The CDC website states, “We now know that overdoses from prescription opioid pain relievers are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths. Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.”

David Bradford has communicated that they hope the study will have a positive effect on the current marijuana policies. The herb is still being listed as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and meth, considered to have no medicinal benefits. This classification makes the herb illegal on a federal level, creating many issues for the cannabis industry and making it unavailable to people in states still operating under prohibition. Sociologist and co-author of the study, Ashley Bradford said, “The results suggest people are really using marijuana as medicine and not just using it for recreational purposes.” With so many states voting this November on whether to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, this study may help voters make a more educated decision.



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