PITTSBURGH, PA — As two state lawmakers push to legalize recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania, a University of Pittsburgh study points to short-term declines in opioid-related emergency rooms in states that do legalize it.
The university’s Graduate School of Public Health analyzed emergency department visits involving opioids in 29 states between 2011 and 2017. The study included four states that legalized recreational marijuana during that period: California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada.
Those four states experienced a 7.6 percent decline in opioid-triggered emergency room visits for six months after legalization laws went into effect. Adult men aged 25 to 44 primarily drove the reduction.
Although the downturn didn’t continue past six months, researchers concluded that even after the temporary decline wears off, recreational cannabis is not associated with hikes in opioid-related emergency department visits.
“This isn’t trivial,” said Coleman Drake, an assistant professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management and the study’s lead author.
“A decline in opioid-related emergency department visits, even if only for six months, is a welcome public health development. But that being said, while cannabis liberalization may offer some help in curbing the opioid epidemic, it’s likely not a panacea.”
The study’s release comes as two Pittsburgh-area state legislators are planning to introduce a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in Pennsylvania.
Democratic representatives Jake Wheatley and Dan Frankel plan to introduce legislation that would permit adults 21 and older to possess as much as 28.38 grams of cannabis and 5 grams of a cannabis product in solid, liquid or concentrated form for personal use.
The study also comes on the heels of a study indicating number of drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania – and nationally – jumped dramatically last year.