A new study has found the legalization of medical marijuana to be associated with a significant decrease in prescriptions for Medicaid enrollees.
Allowing marijuana to be legally accessed and consumed for medical purposes appears to be associated with a dramatic decrease in prescriptions written under Medicaid, according to a new study published in Health Affairs. A daughter-father team of researchers – Ashley C. Bradford and W. David Bradford – investigated the association between medical marijuana laws and prescriptions filled by Medicaid beneficiaries between 2007 and 2014.
The study found that Medicaid prescriptions for certain drugs fell significantly in states that adopted a medical marijuana law. Anti-nausea medication prescriptions fell by 17 percent, while antidepressant prescriptions saw a drop of 13 percent, and seizures and psychosis prescriptions each fell by 12 percent.
Perhaps most significant, the study found that pain management prescriptions fell 11 percent. This is notable considering the nation is facing an opioid prescription epidemic that claimed the lives of more than 15,000 Americans in 2015. Previous studies have also shown a drop in opioid painkiller use and hospitalizations with medical marijuana access.
Medicaid is a joint federal and state social health care program for low-income seniors, families and individuals. Funded by tax dollars, the program provides health coverage to about 69 million Americans.
The study concluded that if all 50 U.S. states had legalized medical marijuana in 2014, the estimated savings for fee-for-service Medicaid would have been $1.01 billion. Rather than using their insurance programs for painkiller prescriptions, patients would be purchasing medical marijuana on their own.
The Bradford research team had conducted a similar study last year, applying the same analysis to prescriptions under Medicare. The results of that study were comparable, with prescriptions for pain, anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications dropping sharply in states with medical marijuana. That investigation also estimated that nationwide legalization in 2014 would have saved half a billion dollars in Medicare savings.
“Our findings on Medicaid prescribing behavior and estimated savings associated with medical marijuana laws, along with our previous results for Medicare enrollees, suggest that patients and physicians in the community are reacting to the availability of medical marijuana as if it were medicine,” the researchers concluded.
The researchers also note that the study’s findings indicate that cannabis does possess therapeutic properties, which would suggest that it’s time for the DEA to reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which is reserved for addictive substances that hold no medicinal value.
A comprehensive research review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found conclusive evidence of cannabis’ therapeutic properties, and the DEA even approved a clinical study on the usefulness of cannabis for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Still, the DEA considered but refused to reschedule cannabis last summer.
“This decision was made despite the substantial and growing evidence that the requirements for Schedule I status involving ‘no currently accepted medical uses’ are no longer met by marijuana,” the study reads.
You can access the entire study, “Medical Marijuana Laws May Be Associated With A Decline In The Number of Prescriptions For Medicaid Enrollees,” via Health Affairs.