Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the headlines – rightfully so. But 2020 was the worst year on record for opioid overdoses in Maine and also across the country, a fact we should all be screaming from the rooftops. While this epidemic of addiction rages, our leaders in Washington need to steer far wide of any talk of liberalizing our nation’s marijuana laws.
Nationally, there were 81,000 drug overdose deaths from June 2019 through May 2020 – the most such deaths ever recorded over a 12-month span. In Maine, there were 502 deaths from drug overdose last year, and numbers from this year are even more concerning. We are very clearly in a crisis.
But one aspect in all of this seems to be overlooked: Is there a connection between the liberalization of marijuana laws and opioid overdose?
According to the most recently available data, in 2019 there were 611 opioid-related overdoses in Colorado, a 62 percent increase since marijuana became legal. Indeed, with the exception of a slight decline from 2017 to 2018, opioid overdose deaths have risen each year in Colorado since legalization took effect. Worse still, early data show 2020 will be the worst year on record for drug overdose in Colorado. In Washington, deaths from prescription opioids have been on a steady decline since 2011, but deaths from heroin and synthetic opioids have skyrocketed since 2010 and 2015, respectively.
With these facts in mind, it’s astounding that we hear incessantly from proponents of legalization and the marijuana industry that the opioid crisis would be solved if pot were legal. Most of these claims were founded in a 2014 study claiming a 25 percent reduction in opioid deaths in states with medical marijuana. The