If you want to reduce people's overreliance on prescription drugs, your best bet might be to let people smoke pot instead.
A new study by researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) showed states with legalized medical marijuana had lower rates of prescription drug use. Not only that, but the government is saving money as a result of not having to pay for as much medicine for Medicare patients.
The paper looked at prescriptions filled by Medicare Part D enrollees from 2010 to 2013, narrowing the data to include only conditions where medical marijuana could serve as a possible treatment. The researchers, David Bradford and Ashley Bradford, found that eight out of the nine conditions saw a marked decrease in filled prescriptions.
Medical marijuana saved the Medicare drug program more than $165 million in 2013, a year when 17 states and Washington, D.C., permitted its use. If it had been legal across the nation, according to a UGA press release, the savings "would have been around $468 million."
This is just under half a percent of what was spent in 2013 as part of Medicare Part D (which totaled $103 billion). The results also indicate people may turn toward available alternatives to prescription drugs, even if they're not covered by any insurance program.
The only condition that saw an increase in written prescriptions was glaucoma, a condition that leads to pressure building in the eye and eventually blindness if a person does not get treatment.
The researchers note while glaucoma patients can use medical marijuana to decrease the amount of pressure they're experiencing, it is not an effective treatment method. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the discomfort only lowers for three or four hours, meaning a person would have to smoke marijuana six to eight times a day to get full-time relief.
"On the programmatic side, we do see reductions in expenditures," said David Bradford in a video released by the university. "Those reductions in expenditures could then be reallocated to other kinds of important and unmet medical needs at the moment."
He hopes this research will help people understand the health benefits of medical marijuana rather than just seeing it as a back door to legalizing recreational pot use. "What our evidence is suggesting is that the response that the patients are having and that physicians are having is that there is a significant amount of actual clinical use at work," Bradford said.