On Overdose Awareness Day, California Policy Continues to Drive Opiate Use

Today, on International Overdose Awareness Day, we note with sadness the recent passing of Tyler Skaggs, a 27-year-old pitcher with the LA Angels of Anaheim, who had fentanyl and oxycodone in his system when he died, as well as alcohol.

A new study published in the journal Economic Inquiry found that when state adult-use cannabis laws with legal access to marijuana are in place, the rate of opioid overdoses declines by 20-35%. A second cannabis-related study published in the same journal found that after a medical cannabis dispensary opened in a county, prescription opioid deaths fell locally by approximately 11 percent.

These studies add to the many which have shown that access to medical marijuana in legal states lowers the rate of opiate use, abuse, overdose, and related traffic accidents. (Also see: NORML Factsheet – Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids. )

A new survey conducted by the American Society of Anesthesiologists in conjunction with September’s Pain Awareness Month found “skyrocketing” interest in marijuana and cannabinoids for pain. More than two-thirds of those surveyed said they have used or would consider using marijuana or cannabinoid compounds – including cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – to manage pain. Nearly three-quarters of millennials fall in that category, with 37% noting they have used them for pain.

A recent study found that the majority of people who shopped at cannabis retail shops reported using marijuana to help with pain and sleep. Yet, many areas of California remain “cannabis deserts” in which locals refuse to license retail shops or delivery services while banning outdoor cultivation of home gardens. The situation, along with overtaxation of licensed cannabis products in California, has lead to consumers to seek out black-market vape pens which have now been implicated in a number of cases of serious lung disease in California in elsewhere.

Workplace, Physician Drug Testing Contributing Factors
Also contributing to opioid use in California is the common practice of drug testing by employers and doctors in order to discriminate against marijuana users at the workplace or in receiving pain medicines. “Workers and patients report they are able to lower their use of opiates if they can also use cannabis, and studies dating back to the 1970s back up these reports, yet policy continues to drive Californians to use more dangerous drugs rather than cannabis, despite legalization in our state,” said Ellen Komp, Deputy Director of Cal NORML.

Cal NORML continues to receive complaints, mainly from patients in the Kaiser Healthcare system, about doctors denying them pain and other medications due to their use of cannabis, oftentimes requiring them to give up cannabis and increase their use of opiates. Patients using pain medications are routinely tested for cannabis, but not alcohol, which can contribute to opioid overdose deaths (as in the case of Tyler Skaggs).

Cal NORML has launched a fundraising drive for its campaign to win employment rights for cannabis users in California. Donations made through Labor Day (Sept. 2) will be doubled by a matching donor. Oklahoma just became the 15th state to pass protections for medical marijuana users in the workplace, yet Californians still face job discrimination even if they have a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis.

California NORML, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is funded entirely by memberships and donations from within California. 

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