Ithaca, NY: The adoption of statewide marijuana legalization laws is associated with reductions in the amount of codeine dispensed at retail pharmacies, according to data published in the journal Health Economics.
A team of researchers affiliated with Cornell University in New York and with George Mason University in Virginia assessed the impact of adult-use cannabis legalization laws on shipments of opioids to hospitals, pharmacies, and other endpoint distributors.
The authors reported that adult-use legalization laws were associated with a 26 percent reduction in pharmacy-based distribution of codeine; this percentage increased in magnitude to 37 percent after the law had been in effect for four years. Authors did not find other evidence of legalization laws affecting changes in other types of opioid distribution.
“This finding is particularly meaningful,” one of the study’s co-authors said in a press release. “Where previous studies have focused on more potent opioids, codeine is a weaker drug with a higher potential for addiction. It indicates people may be obtaining codeine from pharmacies for misuse, and that recreational cannabis laws reduce this illicit demand.”
Among prescription opioids, “codeine is particularly likely to be misused and diverted,” the authors wrote.
Numerous studies have documented a decrease in the use of opioids and other prescription medications, including benzodiazepines and sleep aids, among people residing in jurisdictions that provide regulated cannabis access.
Full text of the study, “Recreational cannabis and opioid distribution,” appears in Health Economics. Additional information is available from NORML’s Fact Sheet, ‘Relationship Between Marijuana and Opioids.’