DENVER – A new study says that a nationwide rollout of medical marijuana would save taxpayers close to $1.1 billion each year on Medicaid prescriptions because medical marijuana use correlates with a decline in prescription drug usage.
The study by the University of Georgia’s father-daughter research team of Ashley Bradford and W. David Bradford lines up with a similar study the two did last year, which found similar correlation with Medicare prescriptions and states with medical marijuana programs.
That study found that taxpayers would save about a half-billion dollars each year under a national medical marijuana program.
But the new study, published this week in Health Affairs, looked at Medicaid – the country’s health care program for low-income people and not Medicare, the health system for elderly Americans.
It found that in states with legal medical marijuana programs, the number of prescriptions through Medicaid written and filled for certain types of drugs fell significantly.
The researchers saw an 11 percent drop in the prescription of painkillers, which include opioids – often blamed for the ongoing opioid and heroin epidemic currently plaguing the U.S.
But they saw larger drops in prescriptions for other drugs as well: There was a 17 percent reduction in nausea medication prescriptions; a 13 percent reduction in depression drug prescriptions; a 12 percent drop in seizure medication prescriptions; and a 12 percent drop in psychosis medication prescriptions.
“Patients and physicians in the community are reacting to the availability of medical marijuana as if it were medicine,” the researchers wrote.
But since most insurance programs don’t offer coverage for medical marijuana, even though it’s available in more than two dozen states, low-income and elderly Americans would be offsetting the cost to taxpayers with out-of-pocket costs.
The study estimated that Colorado saved around $14.4 million in 2014 in Medicaid prescription spending because of its medical marijuana program.
The researchers noted that there could be some instances in which replacing FDA-approved treatments with medical marijuana could be harmful, but also wrote that the research has begun to dispute the DEA’s Schedule I classification of the drug as having no medical uses.
A study published earlier this month in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence also said states with legalized medical marijuana programs have seen fewer opioid-induced hospitalizations per capita than states with no program.
New U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recently compared marijuana to opioids and suggested the idea that medical marijuana could help some addicts recover is “stupid.”
“Medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much,” Sessions said.
The Washington Post reports that Sessions also said that he was “dubious” of medical marijuana and research that points to it being an alternative painkiller and treatment option for opioid addicts.
“I’ve heard people say we could solve our heroin problem with marijuana. How stupid is that? Give me a break.”
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana sales, but medical marijuana is legal in 28 states and D.C.