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Invited Commentary
October 2014

Legalization of Medical Marijuana and Incidence of Opioid Mortality

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Psychology, Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering, University of Maine, Orono
  • 2Pediatrics and Neonatal Medicine, Eastern Maine Medical Center, Bangor
JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(10):1673-1674. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.2716

The rapid acceleration of prescription opioid–related overdose deaths in the United States is correlated with the availability of stronger opioid medications, as well as a change in medical practice from withholding opioid medication because of dependence risk1 to treating patients with chronic pain with opioids. Subsequently, the pendulum of concern has swung again, driven by the public health crisis of rising opioid analgesic addiction, overdose, and death. Opioid medications are problematic as a treatment for chronic pain. Opioid pharmaceuticals cause other adverse effects when used for long periods, such as tolerance, hyperalgesia, and gastrointestinal complications, making this class of drugs a poor choice for long-term use. As is well known, prescription opioids also have great abuse potential due to their influence on stress and reward circuits in the brain, promoting nonmedical use and abuse and diversion of prescription medications.

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