A study last year determined that Medicare prescriptions for painkillers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications all significantly fell in states that adopted medical marijuana programs, showing that many older patients preferred to self medicate with medical marijuana over their given prescriptions. This year a similar study was conducted but with Medicaid, which includes people of all ages, and just as predicted the same result was recorded. The same can be predicted for those on private insurances, but the significance of the data we do have cannot be ignored. While anti-nausea, anti-depressants, seizure, and psychosis drugs fell the most, prescription pain killers like opiates, which are currently responsible for an epidemic of addiciton and overdoses, dropped 11%. Ontop of the population successfully self-medicating certain ailments, if the Medicaid data is applied to a national medical marijuana program, it would save taxpayers around $1.1 billion every year.
Perhaps most significantly from a public health standpoint, prescriptions for painkillers fell by 11 percent. Opiate painkillers are behind much of the current drug overdose epidemic.
Numerous studies have found that opiate abuse and overdose rates fell in states with medical marijuana laws. The Bradfords' research describes the mechanism by which that could happen: the introduction of medical marijuana laws coincides with a drop in painkiller prescriptions.
The Bradfords' data only include prescriptions made under Medicare and Medicaid, but given the totality of their evidence it seems reasonable to assume that similar patterns hold true for patients on private insurance plans.
In the current budgetary environment, no analysis of health care is complete without a discussion of costs. The Bradfords estimate that because of the drops in prescribing rates, a nationwide medical marijuana program would save taxpayers about $1.1 billion on Medicaid prescriptions annually. That's on top of the half a billion in Medicare savings the Bradfords estimated last year.