States with medical marijuana laws were associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates, which could be a useful tool for states with high levels of opioid abuse.
Authored by Marcus A. Bachhuber, a study published in 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined medical marijuana laws and state-level death certificate data in all 50 states from 1999 to 2010. Before 1999, only three states had legalized medical marijuana, which rose to 10 states by 2010.
The study found that states with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower annual opioid overdoses on average than states without them. In 2010, this translated to roughly 1,729 fewer overdose deaths in total.
According to the Center for Disease Control, West Virginia was the state with the highest drug overdose rate in 2015, followed by New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio and Rhode Island.
West Virginia is one of 22 states that does not have a medical marijuana law on the books.
“I would contend that West Virginia is a great place to have (medical marijuana),” said Del. Mick Bates, (D-Raleigh, District 30). “We could be leading the conversation for an alternative to opioids and narcotics as a part of treatment, as an alternative to what people are doing now.”
Bates, a physical therapist for 23 years, continued, “Clearly, how we’ve been treating many of these conditions, pain in particular, has not been effective. West Virginia is killing its future, and I think this could be part of the solution.”
New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio and Rhode Island all allow some form of legal medical marijuana. In Kentucky, it is only available for the treatment of epilepsy and in Ohio dispensaries are currently not operational.
Sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014,