IMAGE: Assistant professor, Department of Health Policy and Management, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health . view more
Credit: University of Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH, July 12, 2021 – States that legalize recreational marijuana experience a short-term decline in opioid-related emergency department visits, particularly among 25- to 44-year-olds and men, according to an analysis led by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
Published today in the journal Health Economics, the study shows that even after the temporary decline wears off, recreational cannabis laws are not associated with increases in opioid-related emergency department visits.
“This isn’t trivial–a decline in opioid-related emergency department visits, even if only for six months, is a welcome public health development,” said lead author Coleman Drake, Ph.D., assistant professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management. “But that being said, while cannabis liberalization may offer some help in curbing the opioid epidemic, it’s likely not a panacea.”
The opioid epidemic in the U.S. has accelerated in recent years, with more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths between June 2019 and May 2020–the highest ever recorded in a one-year period, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, 19 states have legalized recreational cannabis, meaning that nearly half of the U.S. population lives in a state with a recreational cannabis law.
Drake and his colleagues analyzed data on emergency department visits involving opioids from 29 states between 2011 and 2017. The study included four states that legalized recreational marijuana during that time frame: California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. The remaining 25 states acted as controls.
The four states with recreational cannabis laws experienced a 7.6% reduction in opioid-related emergency department visits