Recreational marijuana legalization and prescription opioids received by Medicaid enrollees

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2019 Jan 1;194:13-19. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2018.09.016. Epub 2018 Oct 25.


Objectives: Medical marijuana use may substitute prescription opioid use, whereas nonmedical marijuana use may be a risk factor of prescription opioid misuse. This study examined the associations between recreational marijuana legalization and prescription opioids received by Medicaid enrollees.

Methods: State-level quarterly prescription drug utilization records for Medicaid enrollees during 2010-2017 were obtained from Medicaid State Drug Utilization Data. The primary outcome, opioid prescriptions received, was measured in three population-adjusted variables: number of opioid prescriptions, total doses of opioid prescriptions in morphine milligram equivalents, and related Medicaid spending, per quarter per 100 enrollees. Two difference-in-difference models were used to test the associations: eight states and DC that legalized recreational marijuana during the study period were first compared among themselves, then compared to six states with medical marijuana legalized before the study period. Schedule II and III opioids were analyzed separately.

Results: In models comparing eight states and DC, legalization was not associated with Schedule II opioid outcomes; having recreational marijuana legalization effective in 2015 was associated with reductions in number of prescriptions, total doses, and spending of Schedule III opioids by 32% (95% CI: (-49%, -15%), p = 0.003), 30% ((-55%, -4.4%), p = 0.027), and 31% ((-59%, -3.6%), p = 0.031), respectively. In models comparing eight states and DC to six states with medical marijuana legalization, recreational marijuana legalization was not associated with any opioid outcome.

Conclusions: No evidence suggested that recreational marijuana legalization increased prescription opioids received by Medicaid enrollees. There was some evidence in some states for reduced Schedule III opioids following the legalization.

Keywords: Marijuana; Medicaid; Opioid; Opioid prescription; Recreational marijuana legalization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / economics
  • Drug Utilization / economics
  • Drug Utilization / trends
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Legislation, Drug / economics
  • Legislation, Drug / trends*
  • Male
  • Marijuana Use / economics
  • Marijuana Use / trends*
  • Medicaid / economics
  • Medicaid / trends*
  • Medical Marijuana / administration & dosage*
  • Medical Marijuana / economics
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / economics
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Prescription Drugs / administration & dosage*
  • Prescription Drugs / economics
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Medical Marijuana
  • Prescription Drugs