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Could pot legalization reduce painkiller overdose deaths?

Nearly every law that gets passed comes with intended consequences and unintended consequences. This can be seen perhaps most clearly with the nation’s disparate marijuana laws.

Approximately 23 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana. Because Louisiana is not among them, certain marijuana offenders in this state face harsh sentences for a drug which is legal in other parts of the country – including two states where recreational use of pot has also been legalized.

The rallying cry of anti-drug crusaders is that legalizing marijuana for medicinal use is a slippery slope that could lead to higher rates of abuse, addiction and even death. According to a recently published study, however, legalization of marijuana is actually correlated with a decrease in overdose deaths from more dangerous drugs.

Prescription painkillers (opioids) like Vicodin and OxyContin are dangerous in their own right. They are highly addictive and can lead to fatal overdose. But the increased use of these drugs (legally and otherwise) has caused many addicted individuals to eventually seek out a cheaper alternative that affords a similar high: heroin. Heroin and opioid painkiller deaths are rising nationwide at alarming rates; particularly among young people.

A study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s “Internal Medicine” shows a correlation between legalized medical marijuana and lower rates of opioid deaths. Prior to 2010, about 13 states had legalized medicinal marijuana. In 2010, these 13 states experienced 25 percent fewer painkiller deaths than states where marijuana was illegal for all purposes.

Correlation is not the same as causation, so researchers cannot conclude definitively that marijuana’s semi-legal status led to lower opioid death rates. However, marijuana can be and is used for pain relief, and studies show that it is nearly impossible to fatally overdose on pot.

This is not to say that marijuana (or any drug) is perfectly safe. Certainly, legalization of drugs also comes with unintended consequences. But considering that overdose deaths are skyrocketing, prison populations are swelling and the war on drugs is becoming unaffordably expensive, perhaps it is time to reconsider our nation’s drug-law priorities.

Source: The Atlantic, “States With Medical Marijuana Have Fewer Painkiller Overdose Deaths,” Olga Khazan, Aug. 26, 2014

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Meet Attorney Guillory

Attorney Joshua S. Guillory was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. Upon graduating high school from Alexandria Senior High, he enrolled in classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree. Josh was a member of Mu Kappa Tau, a national honor society for marketing majors, while attending... Read More

Joshua S. Guillory

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