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Maybe it’s Marijuana

Marijuana can decrease opioid dependence despite anti-pot rhetoric

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Arizona's anti-marijuana forces have been railing against one of the biggest examples of the plant's medical efficacy: decreasing opioid addiction.

The Twitter feed of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the organization at least partially responsible for Arizona's last attempt to legalize marijuana in 2016, is rife with claims that opioid use has increased in Colorado and that a study demonstrated a 25 percent decrease in opioid deaths.

The study, released by the RAND Corporation in February, received heavy criticism from Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a close ally of ARDP. SAM's criticism mostly relied on the difference between correlation and causation, claiming the correlation disappeared after 2009 with looser dispensary regulations.

SAM reached out to one of the study's authors (though it's not clear which) for clarification. The author stated that the study's results were more nuanced than initially reported.

"Only legally protected and open dispensaries are correlated with opioid mortality," the author told SAM, and that stricter regulation may negatively impact the correlation.

A press release from RAND following the report suggests the implication here is that fewer opioid deaths correlate with medical programs and dispensaries with fewer regulations. Basically, if prescription opioid users have access to marijuana, they'll use fewer opioids.

This point is corroborated by several state medical marijuana studies. The first, conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health, found that 63 percent of 2,245 Minnesotans in the medical marijuana program decreased or eliminated opioid use within six months.

Similar results were found in Michigan (64 percent, N=244) and Pennsylvania (77 percent, N=1,500), as well as New Mexico and Illinois with far smaller sample sizes.

An Israeli study found 96 percent of 2,970 cancer patients reported "improved conditions" after marijuana use, including 36 percent that eliminated opioid use and 10 percent that decreased opioid use.

How's that for causation? If prescription opioid users have access to medical marijuana, they'll choose the later. This is a crucial key to the country's opioid epidemic despite ARDP's smoke screen that marijuana does little to decrease opioid dependence.

Users affected by this epidemic, mostly white males, start off addicted to prescription opioids and switch to heroin only after the prescription, or their funds, run out. Roughly 80 percent of heroin users first misused prescription opioids, according to a 2013 study cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Medical marijuana is an important solution to stemming the sources of this crisis.

This is an important notion to get across as Arizona's legislature just poo-pooed a bill that would have added opioid use disorder to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

The state pretends to pull out all the stops to addressing this crisis, in which 942 Arizonans have died since June 2017, but ignores marijuana's role based on allegiances to the pharmaceutical industry. (ARDP accepted a $500,000 check from a Chandler-based fentanyl producer in 2016 and was "proud" of it.)

Last week, the Arizona Opioid Assistance and Referral Line opened to help Arizonans address opioid addiction, but the line's operators, Banner Poison and Drug Information Centers, refuse to recommend medical marijuana because "people are on too many drugs," according to medical director Dr. Dan Brooks.

While we look for options in addressing societal issues such as addiction to drugs that actually kill people, we cannot allow counter interests like the ARDP to continue to false concerns about marijuana.

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