KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — - A recent study says states with medical marijuana programs have fewer overdose deaths from opioids compared to states without such programs.
The study published last month in the peer-reviewed Journal of Health Economics also found that states with medical marijuana programs see fewer prescriptions written for opioids compared to other states.
Michigan voters approved a medical marijuana law in 2008. Under it, people who want to use marijuana for medicinal purposes need a prescription from a doctor and state approval.
It's unclear if the Michigan Medical Marihuana Program has had an effect on the problem, but the number of fatal opioid overdoses in the state continues to rise. Kent County saw a record 105 opioid-related deaths in 2017, according to the Kent County Health Department.
A Kalamazoo doctor says medical marijuana provides a safer option for pain management.
"The beauty of marijuana is that it works and, number two, people don't overdose or kill themselves with it," Dr. David Crocker of Michigan Holistic Health said. "The common thread is even the people that overdose on heroin started off with prescription opiates for pain."
He believes marijuana has positive effects in addition to treating chronic pain.
"It helps the pain directly, but a lot of our patients will come back a couple of months later and say, 'Well, yeah, my pain's better, and I'm sleeping better, and I'm getting along with my spouse better, and I just generally feel better and I'm much happier,'" he said.
A group aiming to legalize recreational marijuana in Michigan, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, submitted signatures to the state to get the issue on November's ballot. The state hasn't yet finished reviewing the petition, but Crocker is optimistic.
"I do think that recreational marijuana will make the ballot in November," he said.
He thinks legal marijuana will lead to more lives saved.
"Having access to it in an anonymous, less restrictive way I think will make it more available, and probably continue to reduce the opioid overdoses," he said.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used for diagnostics in mental health treatment, lists Cannabis Use Disorder as an available diagnosis, indicating it is possible to develop a problem with marijuana if not used responsibly.
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