Medical Marijuana Saved Medicare $165 Million, Study Says
In legal medical marijuana states, the use of prescription drugs for which marijuana is an often-recommended alternative, such as opioid pain killers and antidepressants, dropped between 2010 and 2013, according to a July 2016 study published in Health Affairs. Fewer prescriptions were written for drugs to treat anxiety, depression, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, and sleep disorders, all conditions for which marijuana has been recommended. States without legal medical marijuana did not see a decrease in prescriptions.
The study found that painkiller prescriptions in particular dropped by approximately 1,800 doses per year per doctor. The findings echo those of a Mar. 2016 University of Michigan study that found chronic pain clinic patients used opioids 64% less frequently when allowed to use medical marijuana.
The July 2016 study examined prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D enrollees in 17 states and Washington, DC, and found a $165.2 million national reduction in overall Medicare spending in 2013 in states with legal medical marijuana. In Massachusetts, where medical marijuana was legalized in Jan. 2013, Medicare spending dropped about $13.9 million that year. The study estimates that, had all 50 states had legal medical marijuana in 2013, the Medicare program could have saved $468 million.
W. David Bradford, PhD, Busbee Chair in Public Policy at the University of Georgia and one of the study’s authors, stated, “We wouldn’t say that saving money is the reason to adopt this [legalizing medical marijuana]. But it should be part of the discussion.” Bradford also cautions “Just because it’s [marijuana] not as dangerous as some other dangerous things, it doesn’t mean you want to necessarily promote it. There’s a lot of unanswered questions.”
Deepak D’ Souza, MBBS, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University, noted that marijuana does not cause overdose deaths like opioids can but stated, “Even if Medicare may be saving money, medical marijuana doesn’t come for free. I have some trouble with the idea that this is a source of savings.”
Ronnie Cohen, “Seniors with Access to Medical Marijuana Use Fewer Prescription Drugs,” reuters.com, July 6, 2016
Ashley C. Bradford and W. David Bradford, “Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Prescription Medication Use in Medicare Part D,” content.healthaffairs.org, July 2016
Kay Lazar, “Medical Marijuana Changing Prescription Practices, Study Finds,” bostonglobe.com, July 6, 2016
Shefali Luthra, “After Medical Marijuana Legalized, Medicare Prescriptions Drop for Many Drugs,” npr.org, July 6, 2016
University of Michigan, “Medical Marijuana Reduces Use of Opioid Pain Meds, Decreases Risk for Some with Chronic Pain”” ns.umich.edu, Mar. 22, 2016