This Groundbreaking Study Is Big Pharma's Worst Nightmare

April 29th 2016

There's new evidence to support the idea that marijuana legalization could combat America's opioid epidemic. A new report found that people are less likely to abuse prescription painkillers in states with legal medical marijuana systems. 

marijuana-plantFlickr/Alex B -

An analysis of healthcare claims from about one million Americans over a five-year period revealed that 5.4 percent of patients who receive painkiller prescriptions in states that outlaw marijuana go on to abuse to drug. In contrast, only 2.8 percent of patients with access to legal marijuana become abusers.*

medical marijuanaCastlight Health -

This isn't as shocking as it might seem at first glance.

The idea that marijuana could replace painkillers is supported by earlier research. As ATTN: previously reported, a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that states where marijuana is legal report nearly 25 percent fewer opioid-related overdose deaths than states where it remains illegal.

PainkillersFlickr / Casey Fleser -

Numerous studies have demonstrated that marijuana serves as an effective treatment option for people suffering from chronic and neuropathic pain; one study published in the Journal of Pain last year described how chronic pain patients significantly reduced their opioid use after receiving medical marijuana.

"I don't think it's a cure for everybody," Maine Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) told the Associated Press. "But why take a solution off the table when people are telling us and physicians are telling us that it's working?"

Marijuana legalization represents one possible solution to America's public health crisis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that rates of opioid abuse and overdose in the U.S. have reached epidemic proportions. About 14,000 Americans fatally overdose on opioid-based medication each year, the CDC reports, and as many as one in four people who are prescribed painkillers for conditions other than cancer become addicted.

That last point is worth emphasizing: one in four people who receive a prescription for opioid-based painkillers (e.g. Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin) struggle with addiction. And once patients get hooked on painkillers, they're significantly more likely to turn to harder, cheaper drugs, such as heroin, if their prescription ends or they're unable to afford the pills.

Three in four new heroin users say they abused prescription painkillers before they tried heroin, the CDC reports.

"We are in the midst of a serious problem," Dr. Richard Saitz, the chair of the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, told the Associated Press. "People are dying and, as a result, we ought to use things that are proven to be effective."

*For the purposes of the report, which was released by the healthcare research company Castlight Health, an individual meets the qualifications for "opioid abuse" if they receive more than a 90-day cumulative supply of painkillers from four or more providers between 2011 and 2015.

RELATED: Prince's Reported Painkiller Uses Call Attention to the Opioid Crisis

Share your opinion

Do you think marijuana legalization could curb painkiller abuse in America?

No 2%Yes 98%