Earlier this year, I distinctly remember hearing one of my friends joke about selling some painkillers he had received after his wisdom teeth were removed. Apparently, it isn’t very difficult to do so. Painkillers are a dangerous and growing addiction in the United States. I’ve recently discovered that over half of drug-related overdose deaths are the result of painkillers (Center for Disease Control). I believe that this statistic is so alarming because painkillers, and even those that require prescriptions, are so easily given out and acquired. Our country’s medical system can be taken advantage of by those who wish to sell prescription drugs illegally. But could this trade be reduced by the legalization of weed?
Picture courtesy of theodysseyonline.com
A recent study examined the specific abuse of opioids in states in which marijuana is legal only with a prescription and states that have legal, easily accessible marijuana dispensaries. This is a very important distinction. Whereas prescriptions only allow for a specific, small amount of marijuana to be sold, the dispensary system allows for a much easier and less regulated process of obtaining the drug. The rates of fatal opioid overdose and opioid treatment center admissions were compared before and after legalization in states with both of these systems. The study found no change in “prescription only” states. States with medical marijuana shops, however, saw a 16% drop in opioid related deaths and a 28% drop in opioid treatment center admissions.
Furthermore, research suggests that this decrease is primarily the result of recreational opioid users modifying their habits to consume marijuana. These results seem to indicate that providing accessible marijuana lowers the rate of more deleterious drug use.
Personally, I think that this study was well conducted and has yielded accurate data. It seems logical to me that those who abuse opioids would instead use marijuana if it were prescribed to them. Even if these people continue to abuse drugs, marijuana is much better both for themselves and society. The article I read, however, does not discuss any negative consequences of the shift from recreational opioid to marijuana use. Before legalization, pot was only acquired through drug dealers, often associated with gangs and other criminal activity. If it were more easily acquired, but only in small amounts, could addiction encourage the growth of illegal marijuana sale? It seems that painkillers and marijuana are not as comparable as one may suspect. According to Psychology Today, marijuana users typically do not experience the severe withdrawal symptoms typically seen in more serious drugs. Even if marijuana is only psychologically addictive and much less so than opioids, I believe that any kind of partial or regulated legalization could lead to a larger illegal drug trade and more criminal gang activity. Despite this possible caveat, however, I believe that this study has merit and that marijuana is a safer alternative to many drugs currently available in the United States.