Little evidence marijuana reduces opioid abuse
PROPONENTS of State Question 788, which would legalize “medical” marijuana in Oklahoma, often argue marijuana legalization will reduce opioid abuse. Their argument is that people addicted to painkillers or heroin will switch to marijuana, which they say is better because one cannot overdose on marijuana.
Yet a look at federal data shows no correlation between legal marijuana and lower rates of opioid overdose. Some states with legal marijuana have less of an opioid problem than Oklahoma, but others with legal marijuana have higher overdose rates.
Earlier this year, Madison.com, the website of the Wisconsin State Journal and affiliated newspapers, compiled the federal opioid overdose figures for all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 1999 to 2016 (the most recent year for which data was available).
Oklahoma ranked 31st with an age-adjusted opioid overdose death rate of 11.8 per 100,000 citizens in 2016, according to federal data. During the prior 10 years, Oklahoma’s opioid overdose rate increased 4 percent.
Yet Alaska, which legalized medical marijuana in 1998, has an even higher opioid overdose death rate of 13.5 per 100,000 people — and the overdose rate in that state grew 229 percent in the prior decade.
Voters in Maine legalized medical marijuana by ballot measure in 1999. The opioid overdose death rate in that state hit 25.6 per 100,000 in 2016, ranking eighth-highest in the country. Maine’s opioid overdose rate increased 237 percent during the prior 10 years.
Nevada legalized medical marijuana in 2000. Its opioid overdose rate of 14.8 per 100,000 in 2016 is markedly higher than Oklahoma’s and also higher than when medical marijuana was legalized.
Medical pot has been legal in Vermont since 2004. Its opioid overdose rate hit 18.7 per 100,000 in 2016 and increased 91 percent over the prior decade.