Drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, and morphine are commonly prescribed by doctors to help patients reduce pain. However, despite the positive intent, these medications do have some serious negative consequences associated with them.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the US.
That reduces down to approximately two deaths per hour, thus, in the time it takes me to write this article, someone will likely die from a painkiller overdose.
Painkiller death rates weren’t always this high. This staggering number could be in part due to the increase of painkillers being prescribed. In the past 24 years, we’ve seen a drastic increase in the number of opioid medications prescribed to treat pain. The number of prescriptions for opioids have risen from approximately 76 million in 1991 to almost 207 million in 2013, so it has nearly tripled.
Medical Marijuana States Have Fewer Painkiller Deaths
According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014, in the 13 states that passed laws allowing for the use of medical marijuana between 1999 and 2010, 25 percent fewer people die from opioid overdoses annually.
Here is a passage taken directly from the study, which I believe offers insight into a possible explanation for this statistic:
Although the exact mechanism is unclear, our results suggest a link between medical cannabis laws and lower opioid analgesic overdose mortality. Approximately 60% of all opioid analgesic overdoses occur among patients who have legitimate prescriptions from a single provider. This group may be sensitive to medical cannabis laws; patients with chronic noncancer pain who would have otherwise initiated opioid analgesics may choose medical cannabis instead. Although evidence for the analgesic properties of cannabis is limited, it may provide analgesia for some individuals.
In addition, patients already receiving opioid analgesics who start medical cannabis treatment may experience improved analgesia and decrease their opioid dose, thus potentially decreasing their dose-dependent risk of overdose. Finally, if medical cannabis laws lead to decreases in polypharmacy—particularly with benzodiazepines—in people taking opioid analgesics, overdose risk would be decreased.”
Prescription painkiller deaths are at an all-time high. This is due to a number of factors, and I believe one of the main reasons is the significant increase in prescriptions written over the past quarter-century.
In medical marijuana states, the painkiller death rate is 25% lower than the national average. There is much speculation on possible factors leading to this statistical finding, however, more studies are needed before any concrete facts can be determined.