Late last month Donald Trump’s administration declared the rising death rate from opioid overdoses a national public health emergency. Thirty-three thousand lives were lost to this scourge in 2015, and early reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paint an even bleaker picture for 2016.
Policymakers working for the president are doubling down on a policy aimed at restricting opioids. But this policy isn’t working. In fact, it might even be contributing to abusers’ switch to more potent drugs such as heroin in recent years. Yet there is an approach that can truly curb the rising rate of overdose deaths that is staring them right in the face: legalizing marijuana.
According to research published earlier this month in the American Journal of Public Health, Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2014 coincided with a 6.5 percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths. The researchers studied the opioid overdose rate in the state from 2000 to 2015, and found that after 14 years of a steady rise in opioid overdose deaths, the rate decreased by an average of 0.7 deaths per month.
This is not the first study to find that marijuana is associated with a drop in the use and abuse of opioids and other dangerous drugs. A 2014 study examined states where marijuana was available for medical use between 1999 and 2010 and found, on average, a 25 percent reduction in annual opioid overdose mortality compared to states in which marijuana was illegal. Researchers at the RAND Corporation found similar results in 2015. And in June of this year, a study of chronic pain patients by the University of California at Berkeley found that 97 percent of patients decreased opioid consumption as a result of using medical marijuana, and 81 percent found marijuana alone was more effective