Prescription Opioid Distribution after the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana in Colorado

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By bhadmin February 2, 2021

There have been dynamic changes in prescription opioid use in the US but the state level policy factors contributing to these are incompletely understood. We examined the association between the legalization of recreational marijuana and prescription opioid distribution in Colorado. Utah and Maryland, two states that had not legalized recreational marijuana, were selected for comparison. Prescription data reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration for nine opioids used for pain (e.g., fentanyl, morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, oxymorphone) and two primarily for opioid use disorder (OUD, methadone and buprenorphine) from 2007 to 2017 were evaluated. Analysis of the interval pre (2007–2012) versus post (2013–2017) marijuana legalization revealed statistically significant decreases for Colorado (P < 0.05) and Maryland (P < 0.01), but not Utah, for pain medications. There was a larger reduction from 2012 to 2017 in Colorado (–31.5%) than the other states (–14.2% to –23.5%). Colorado had a significantly greater decrease in codeine and oxymorphone than the comparison states. The most prevalent opioids by morphine equivalents were oxycodone and methadone. Due to rapid and pronounced changes in prescription opioid distribution over the past decade, additional study with more states is needed to determine whether cannabis policy was associated with reductions in opioids used for chronic pain.

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