Study: Legal marijuana may have decreased Colo. opioid deaths

Officials are skeptical of the study that said one fewer person has died a month of an opioid overdose since the sale of legal marijuana

By EMS1 Staff

DENVER — A new study found that the sale of legal marijuana in Colorado may have decreased the number of opioid overdose deaths in the state, but officials are skeptical of the findings.

Denver Post reported that nearly one fewer person per month died of an opioid overdose in Colorado when the sale of legal marijuana began in 2014, according to the study. Researchers did not say the decrease was caused by the legalization, only that it was “associated” with fewer fatal overdoses.

In the study, researchers documented opioid overdose deaths from 2000 to 2015 and took into account the 2014 attempt to increase prescription drug monitoring in Colorado. With all of the data, researchers saw a 6.5 percent decrease in monthly opioid deaths after marijuana became legal.

“These initial results clearly show that continuing research is warranted as data become available, involving longer follow-ups and additional states that have legalized recreational cannabis,” the study’s authors said.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment executive director Dr. Larry Wolk said it is too soon to make conclusions about the impact of legal marijuana.

“It just hasn’t been in place long enough,” Wolk said. “Anything that does get published at this point should be considered preliminary data.”

Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention coordinator Robert Valuck said too many factors are in play to say how much one policy change impacted an epidemic.

“The whole thing is so convoluted, with so many different things going on in the marketplace, it’s virtually impossible to assign cause and effect or credit and blame to any one thing,” he said.

The study said that other alternative explanations for the findings would have to have occurred around the same time legal marijuana sales began.

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