Medicare Prescriptions Drop In Medical Marijuana States
Exclusive at EMRIndustry.com by Anne Foy
The problem of pain is a pressing one for the medical industry. The most effective legal painkillers we have available to us are powerful opioid analgesics. While excellent at treating chronic pain and therefore making life bearable for sufferers, they are also both highly addictive and increasingly expensive. Opioid painkillers are widely credited with driving the startling rise we’ve recently seen in heroin addiction, as well as with causing a great many unnecessary deaths. Many scientists are working hard to find alternative, non-addictive, inexpensive forms of pain relief which will help to ease the opioid analgesic problem. Interestingly, in states which have legalized the usage of medical marijuana, there has been a dip in the number of Medicare prescriptions issued – much of which relates to opioid painkillers. Could medical marijuana change the face of American pain relief? Some think so, but others are rather more wary.
Marijuana, Opioids, And Pain Relief
Opioids are undeniably very effective at reducing pain and improving quality of life if used correctly. However, their powerfully addictive qualities mean that there is currently something of a crisis surrounding their usage, with huge numbers of people accidentally succumbing to painkiller addiction, and a thriving black market in prescription analgesics for addicts. Marijuana, meanwhile, also has powerful painkilling properties, but is not nearly so addictive as opioids. Indeed, current scientific opinion holds that marijuana is not addictive at all (although some public figures disagree on this). Pain relief without addiction or any of the other troubling side effects which come with opioids is the Holy Grail of analgesic medicine – if marijuana can provide this, it would appear on paper to be quite a coup for the medical profession as a whole. And many doctors are fully in favor of using marijuana, where possible, rather than exposing more patients to the risks of opioid medicines. Unsurprisingly, companies producing opioid medicines are less enthusiastic about this, but scientific consensus is generally coming round to the idea that medical marijuana really can be a viable analgesic alternative to opioids. And, in states where medical marijuana is available, the people seem to agree.
Research published last year revealed that, for conditions for which marijuana can reasonably be prescribed (depression, chronic pain, anxiety and the like), Medicare prescriptions for things like antidepressants and opioid analgesics dropped in states which have legalized medical marijuana. The drop covered both direct Medicare prescriptions, and money used to fund such medicines from outside dispensaries. That the drop is related to marijuana rather than any other factor is demonstrated by the fact that medicines for conditions which marijuana cannot be prescribed for – blood thinners, for example – continued to be prescribed at the same rate as before. In all, researchers concluded that medical marijuana saved Medicare around $165 million in 2013 alone – and significantly reduced the less quantifiable risk of patients being exposed to addictive substances. For those working on curbing America’s problem with painkillers, this is a very big deal indeed.
It’s too early to say whether or not medical marijuana really does pose a viable alternative to our current systems of pain relief. While we’re almost certain that it works as an analgesic for chronic pain, it will take time to work out ways of utilising marijuana for this purpose within our current healthcare protocols. Reports from states where medical marijuana is being rolled out are promising – but refining codes of usage and making the substance available across the board will both take time and face considerable opposition from certain quarters. However, the tide is turning decisively in marijuana’s favor. Despite opposition from many of his advisors (and despite some flip-flopping on the issue), President Trump does appear to endorse medical marijuana. Furthermore, the American people consistently and increasingly register their support for the legalization of marijuana – not only medicinally, but recreationally as well. More and more states are coming out in favor of marijuana legalization, and, at this point, it looks reasonably certain that we’ll see large-scale marijuana-related change in the near future. Whether or not this alters or (hopefully) curbs the nation’s problems with opioid medications remains to be seen – after all, there are some pains which marijuana simply won’t be as effective as opioids in dealing with – but this is definitely an area which merits watching.