Study: Fewer painkiller deaths in states with medical marijuana

States with legalized medical marijuana have lower rates of overdose deaths for prescription drugs, according to a new study.

States that legalized patient access to marijuana saw a 25 percent drop in deaths linked to powerful prescription painkillers known as opioids.

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The study comes as lawmakers have raised concerns about a rise in the abuse of painkillers and related deaths around the country. Lawmakers have demanded the Food and Drug Administration take actions to curb the trend.

The researchers suggest that legalizing marijuana could be one way of lessening painkiller abuse.

"Prescription drug abuse and deaths due to overdose have emerged as national public health crises," said Colleen Barry, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

"As our awareness of the addiction and overdose risks associated with use of opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin grows, individuals with chronic pain and their medical providers may be opting to treat pain entirely or in part with medical marijuana, in states where this is legal,” she added.

The study was conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association — Internal Medicine. They analyzed medical marijuana use and painkiller deaths between 1999 and 2010, and found a significant correlation.

The authors say if further research shows a strong link between medical marijuana and fewer overdose deaths, lawmakers should consider legalizing pot.