Importance: Overprescribing of opioids is considered a major driving force behind the opioid epidemic in the United States. Marijuana is one of the potential nonopioid alternatives that can relieve pain at a relatively lower risk of addiction and virtually no risk of overdose. Marijuana liberalization, including medical and adult-use marijuana laws, has made marijuana available to more Americans.
Objective: To examine the association of state implementation of medical and adult-use marijuana laws with opioid prescribing rates and spending among Medicaid enrollees.
Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional study used a quasi-experimental difference-in-differences design comparing opioid prescribing trends between states that started to implement medical and adult-use marijuana laws between 2011 and 2016 and the remaining states. This population-based study across the United States included all Medicaid fee-for-service and managed care enrollees, a high-risk population for chronic pain, opioid use disorder, and opioid overdose.
Exposures: State implementation of medical and adult-use marijuana laws from 2011 to 2016.
Main outcomes and measures: Opioid prescribing rate, measured as the number of opioid prescriptions covered by Medicaid on a quarterly, per-1000-Medicaid-enrollee basis.
Results: State implementation of medical marijuana laws was associated with a 5.88% lower rate of opioid prescribing (95% CI, -11.55% to approximately -0.21%). Moreover, the implementation of adult-use marijuana laws, which all occurred in states with existing medical marijuana laws, was associated with a 6.38% lower rate of opioid prescribing (95% CI, -12.20% to approximately -0.56%).
Conclusions and relevance: The potential of marijuana liberalization to reduce the use and consequences of prescription opioids among Medicaid enrollees deserves consideration during the policy discussions about marijuana reform and the opioid epidemic.