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Study Links Medical Marijuana With Reduced Overdose Deaths

Anti-pot advocates are angry that medical marijuana is being presented as a healthier alternative to pills.

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By McCarton Ackerman

08/27/14

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A new study has linked medical marijuana with a reduction in prescription drug overdose deaths, but anti-drug advocates are outraged over the conclusion that pot is a healthier alternative to pain pills.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that states which have legalized medical marijuana had on average 1,700 fewer deaths per year from prescription drugs. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia allow for medical marijuana use. Statistics from the Drug Enforcement Administration show that 15,000 Americans die annually from prescription overdose deaths.

Although the study doesn’t attempt to explain the correlation between legal medical marijuana and the reduction of drug overdose deaths, it suggested the need for further research into creating marijuana-based medications.

"It suggests the potential for many lives to be saved," said study senior author Colleen L. Barry, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School. "We can speculate…that people are completely switching or perhaps supplementing, which allows them to lower the dosage of their prescription opioid."

However, critics called the study “flawed” and questioned how the data was both collected and analyzed. Kevin Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida College of Medicine, noted that the researchers didn’t differentiate between states that had relaxed or strict medical marijuana laws and also didn’t look at either emergency room admission data or prescription drug statistics.

"In today's supercharged discussions, it could be easily misunderstood by people," he said. "There may be promise in marijuana-based medications but that's a lot different than 'here's a joint for you to smoke.'"

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