Researchers in Fort Worth say they've discovered that recreational marijuana may have a big impact in the fight against the opioid epidemic in the country.
They set out to see whether states that allow recreational marijuana saw an increase or decrease in opioid related deaths and were surprised by what they found.
Melvin D. Livingston, Ph.D., assistant professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the UNTHSC School of Public Health, led the study.
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"More people are dying from opioid deaths than car crashes, and all of those are 100-percent preventable," Livingston said.
The team found that in Colorado, opioid related deaths dropped more than six percent over the two years after the state legalized recreational marijuana, reversing the previous upward trend.
"At the federal level, they've been talking about cracking down on state marijuana laws, medical and recreational, to combat the opioid epidemic, so we really just wanted to see whether or not the data indicated that that was a worthwhile solution," he said.
"Recreational marijuana does not lead to an increase in opioid related deaths," Livingston said.
More than 30,000 people die every year from opioid legal and illegal opioid use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of last year, eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana.
Livingston says his study is the first of its kind, and more study is needed.
"I hope it starts pushing people to start asking those kinds of questions of the policies that we passed and how they impact our health," he said.
Back in 2014, studies found a 25-percent decrease in opioid related deaths in states that allow medical marijuana use.