While illegal drugs continue to cause significant problems for many individuals around the world, there is a growing number of people fighting against prescription drug addiction. Despite the fact that GPs prescribe these medications, they can be highly addictive and should only be used in the short-term for conditions such as chronic pain.
Abuse of prescription medication means taking more of the medication than prescribed or taking it at more regular intervals than advised to. Those who take medication that was prescribed for another person can also be classed as abusing this medication. Regardless in what way it is abused, it can lead to addiction, which can cause a number of problems with both health and lifestyle. However, it is important to note that even those who do not abuse prescription medication can develop an addiction if they take the drugs for an extended period of time.
Prescription medication addiction is a problem here in the UK, but it is also a major issue in the US. Nonetheless, doctors in the United States have revealed that far fewer prescriptions have been written for patients in states where medicinal marijuana is available. In 2013, more than $165 million was saved on prescription medication in the states where marijuana was legally available for medicinal purposes.
A study has found that Medicare would save around $468 million every year on prescription medications if medicinal marijuana were available across all American states.
Marijuana is currently available for medicinal uses in the District of Columbia and twenty-five states, but there are limitations on what it can be prescribed for. Senior author of the study, Professor W David Bradford, said, “When states turned on medical marijuana laws, we did see a rather substantial turn away from FDA-approved medicine.”
The study was conducted on 2010-2013 data provided by Medicare regarding drugs that were typically prescribed for a number of ailments that included nausea, depression and pain. It was believed that marijuana could be an alternative treatment for these complaints.
The study showed that once medical marijuana laws came into effect, prescriptions written for all ailments with the exception of glaucoma were reduced. There were significant reductions in the prescriptions written for drugs used to treat conditions such as depression, pain, nausea, seizures, sleep disorders, anxiety, and psychoses. There was a drop of more than eleven per cent in the number of prescriptions written for pain relief. Professor Bradford said, “The results show that marijuana might be beneficial with diverting people away from opioids.”
In 2014, another study revealed that the number of deaths attributed to opioid overdose was around twenty-five per cent lower on average in states where medicinal marijuana was legal. Many believe that marijuana is an alternative treatment to certain opioid drugs, particularly for those who are living with chronic pain.
Nevertheless, medicinal marijuana is not without its critics. Dr Kevin Hill, an addiction psychiatrist, believes that those who are receiving medical marijuana may be getting poor quality care. He said, “Fewer opioid prescriptions in medical marijuana states might be a good thing, but I am concerned about the overall quality of care delivered in medical marijuana specialty clinics.”
Having said that, many think that medical marijuana is an effective alternative to opioid medications, particularly for older adults. Medical sociologist Sheigla Murphy said of medical marijuana, “It fits with the problems of older age, problems with sleeping, depression, arthritis, worn-out body parts that begin to hurt. Marijuana can relieve these without the side effects of grogginess and worrying about addiction. As we’re trying to reduce the number of pain medications, I think marijuana would be a welcome addition to the pharmacopoeia. The one thing we know is no one has ever died of it.”