Reduction in Opioid-Related Deaths in States with Legalized Marijuana

As Utah continues to hold the leash tight on legalizing marijuana, other states who have sanctioned this “gate-way” drug are reporting a reduction in opioid-related deaths and overall opioid use.

Relief from chronic pain

Photo by: Jorge Gonzalez

Many addicts that abuse opioids, whether through pill form or through substances such as heroin start off with a prescription written out by a caring medical practitioner. These prescriptions are often given to relieve chronic pain as a result of injuries or medical conditions. The National Institutes of Health states: “more than 25 million Americans suffer from daily chronic pain.” NIH adds that “[m]ore than 2 million Americans have OUD [opioid use disorder]. Millions more misuse opioids, taking opioid medications longer or in higher doses than prescribed.” What begins as a way to manage pain or other ailments however can quickly spiral into a lifelong dependency on opioids that is often dangerously supported using street drugs or illegally acquired pills when prescriptions are no longer being filled.

Safer alternative to pain pills

In a country that lost over 20,000 citizens to opioid related deaths in 2016 according to NIH, there has to be safer alternatives to help individuals manage chronic pain and other debilitating conditions. According to an article published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, there has been a notable decrease in opioid-related deaths in Colorado consequent of the legalization of recreational cannabis. The report which uses the state of Colorado to draw its association said: “Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis sales and use resulted in a 0.7 deaths per month . . . reduction in opioid-related deaths. This reduction represents a reversal of the upward trend in opioid-related deaths in Colorado.”

Decreasing opioid dependency

Photo by: Mark

While the US National Library of Medicine plans on analyzing data from other states, other research groups have already done so in regards to overall opioid use in marijuana-friendly states. These reports have all shown that in states where marijuana is legal for recreational or at least medicinal use, there has been a definite decrease in opioid abuse. One of the studies showed a 4% decrease in opioids beings prescribed for those covered under federal and state health insurance programs in states that had lenient marijuana laws. This percentage decrease did not include those covered under private insurance. When patients seek help from doctors to manage chronic pain and other conditions, doctors in marijuana-friendly states now have another alternative to offer their patients. Doctors can either write patients a prescription for dangerously addicting opioids or direct their patients to the nearest marijuana dispensary. Many medical practitioners whose life’s goals are to help people are now choosing marijuana as a safer alternative to prescription opioids when helping their patients with their ailments.

Utah, bringing up the rear

The Utah Department of Health stated: “From 2013 to 2015, Utah ranked 7th highest in the nation for drug overdose deaths.” They also noted that “in 2015, 24 individuals (residents and non-residents) died every month from a prescription opioid overdose in Utah.” In a state that is plagued by the opioid epidemic, why has Utah been dragging their feet with marijuana laws? While some may see the problem with allowing the plant to be used recreationally, there is minimal logic to support why medical use of marijuana has not yet been openly approved in Utah. Fortunately, there are small steps being made with allowing medical marijuana use in Utah. The Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative was passed by the senate earlier this year and will be on the ballot in November. If enough Utah residents vote “yes” on the initiative, patients with a qualifying illness or chronic pain can be issued a medical cannabis card, allowing them to obtain medical marijuana to manage their illnesses instead of using harmful opioids. Hopefully then will Utah finally be able to see a reduction in opioid-related deaths among its residents.

Is Using Marijuana For Pain Relief a Safer Alternative Than Opioids?

When someone is battling chronic or acute pain, they are often prescribed addictive opioids when using marijuana for pain relief may be a safer alternative.

Opioid epidemic

6698540291_20f5b96c81_zAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose” and unfortunately, “opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States.” The CDC also stated that “deaths from prescription opioids-drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone-have more than quadrupled since 1999”. This may be due to the fact that “since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled [even though] there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.“ So why do doctors continue to mass prescribe dangerously addictive and obviously overused opioids to help their patients manage pain?

Marijuana for pain relief

Opioids continue to be used to handle pain because there isn’t much out there that can replace them….legally. Medical marijuana has been tested repeatedly and consistently proves to be beneficial in reducing discomfort for those individuals who struggle with chronic pain. It is also being studied for use in acute pain episodes with positive results. Even though using marijuana for pain relief has been proven to be a successful alternative option that is natural and far safer than opioids, not all U.S. citizens have access to it since several states still consider marijuana an illegal substance. Some states such as Utah go as far to label it a schedule I drug along with methamphetamine and cocaine.

Marijuana use around the nation

Photo by: Satish Krishnamurthy

Photo by: Satish Krishnamurthy

Over the last several years, 26 states as well as Washington D.C. have come to the realization that marijuana isn’t as dangerous as once believed and has proven qualities in fighting chronic and acute pain. Those 26 states and Washington D.C. have all legalized marijuana for medical use. Seven of those states along with D.C. also allow their residents to use marijuana recreationally, just as all states do with alcohol. When will the other states including Utah get on board and legalize marijuana at least for medical use?

Medical marijuana in Utah

There were two bills regarding medical marijuana that Utah lawmakers were working on but unfortunately, only one bill passed and it doesn’t do anything to help those struggling with pain. House Bill 130 that allows medical marijuana to be researched passed the Utah State Legislature, but marijuana has already been researched for medical use; it is time to give pain sufferers in Utah another option besides prescription opioids. Some Utah residents who are frustrated with Utah lawmakers dragging their feet allowing marijuana for pain relief end up taking matters into their own hands. They may cross state lines to take advantage of neighboring states’ leniency towards marijuana only to be busted once they return to Utah with marijuana in their possession or simply in their system. Their attempt to find something else besides opioids to manage pain may land them in jail.

Criminal penalties

Photo by: Victor

Photo by: Victor

Utah law currently prohibits the possession of marijuana and Utah residents are not even allowed to have it in their system when driving. Marijuana metabolites can stay in the system for up to four weeks which makes it impossible for residents to find relief in other states before driving home to Utah. Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana may result in a fine up to $1,000 and the individual charged being incarcerated for up to 6 months.These same charges apply to driving with a measurable amount of marijuana or metabolite of marijuana in the person’s body. Possession of greater quantities or repeat offense may result in greater charges. This may seem unfair for those using marijuana for pain relief, but it is still Utah law.For more information on criminal charges for using marijuana for pain relief, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Medical Marijuana in Utah

The acceptance of medical marijuana as a viable option for treatment of several diseases and illnesses is increasing around the nation, yet some states such as Utah are still not sold on allowing complete use of the herb for medical use because of the psychoactive high that can accompany it.

Observed side effects

Medical Marijuana

Photo by: Chuck Grimmet

Medical marijuana has been a hot topic of studies for decades and there have been observed health benefits for those suffering many ailments. While some components of medical marijuana are gaining favor in the health field, one questionable side effect continues to be difficult for experts to ignore. What is likely deterring law makers from completely legalizing medical marijuana use in Utah is the psychoactive “high” that is often accompanied by red eyes, dry mouth, decreased cognitive function, and an amplified desire for food (otherwise known as the munchies).

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

There are two different chemicals in marijuana that have medicinal uses. THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is the chemical in marijuana that gives users a “high” yet this same chemical that causes a temporary high has been shown to be highly effective at relieving symptoms for those suffering with:
• Chronic pain
• Asthma
• Insomnia
• Glaucoma
• Arthritis
• Lupus, and
• Decreased appetite
Even though THC has been proven to be extremely beneficial in the medical field, law makers in Utah have yet to allow its use due to the psychoactive properties. This can be frustrating for many sufferers of the above ailments, yet fortunately not all uses of medical marijuana are banned in Utah.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

Photo by: James Pallinsad

Photo by: James Pallinsad

The second chemical found in medical marijuana is cannabidiol or CBD which does not produce a high, yet is still successful at helping those suffering from:
• Autism
• Anxiety
• Multiple Sclerosis
• Schizophrenia
• Epilepsy, and
• Dravet’s syndrome
Combined with THC, CBD may also be used for those struggling with:
• IBD or Crohn’s disease
• PTSD
• Muscle spasms and tension, and
• Nausea
Currently, Utah’s medical marijuana laws only allow individuals with severe epilepsy to legally use the non-psychoactive CBD extract after first procuring it from a different state. Those suffering with chronic pain or other ailments continue to be disappointed with Utah’s strict laws on medical marijuana, however there is hope on the horizon for allowance of CBD for other ailments as well as the medical use for THC.

Possible change in store for Utah’s medical marijuana laws

After a lack of funds caused bills legalizing medical marijuana to die before ever reaching a vote, One Utah lawmaker, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville is planning on sponsoring a bill that allows the use of medical marijuana for a wider range of illnesses which would allow strains containing both CBD and THC chemicals to be used. In case Froerer’s bill doesn’t pass, other legislative leaders are working to put a new initiative on the 2018 ballot while ensuring there is funding to support such an initiative.

Will Utah relax its stance on medical marijuana?

Photo by: David Trawin

Photo by: David Trawin

Currently, 25 states along with the nation’s capital allow the full use of both chemicals in marijuana to be used for medical reasons with a doctor’s prescription. In time there is hope that the remainder of the states will relax their stances regarding the use of marijuana to medical purposes. Until then, Utah residents are warned to refrain from possessing marijuana or visiting neighboring states which may have more lenient laws regarding marijuana use. Utah continues to carry strict penalties for simple possession of marijuana along with charges for individuals traveling from other lenient states with marijuana in their system. For more information on crimes related to marijuana use for medicinal and recreation use, contact a criminal defense attorney.