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Study shows medical marijuana lowers costs, painkiller use
Officials worry savings could be short lived
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Research has linked medical marijuana with a decrease in the abuse of painkillers, and now a University of Georgia study has spotlighted the potential cost savings to Medicare.

For Hall County resident Katie Harrison, whose young son uses legal cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders, the report backs up her own anecdotal findings.

“I’ve seen parents post their own comparison of the costs of prescription medicines they were able to wean a child off of due to cannabis use, and it’s obviously beneficial,” she said. “But it will be interesting to see the impact on a national level.”

The study, published in the July issue of Health Affairs, found that 17 states that allowed medical marijuana in some form in 2013 produced $165 million in savings.

And the estimated annual Medicare prescription savings would reach almost half a billion dollars if all 50 states were counted.

State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, supported a failed bill this year that would have expanded access to cannabis oil to more patients.

And he’s been trying to combat prescription drug abuse in his dental practice by providing ibuprofen and other non-opioid drugs when it’s appropriate for non-chronic pain.

In medical-marijuana states, the average doctor prescribed fewer antidepressants, fewer seizure medications and fewer anti-anxiety drugs.

And opioid painkiller prescriptions were down sharply, as well.

But Hawkins said the caveat he offers about the study is what its consequences might mean.

As more states allow medical marijuana, and different kinds, as a substitute for prescription drugs, insurance companies may be forced to cover these costs, which would wipe out savings, he said.

“Thing that troubles me ... is if it became the norm,” Hawkins added.

The studies’ authors urged policymakers to use the report as an opportunity “to evaluate the pros and cons of medical marijuana legalization.”

“They were able to show not only that cannabis is a medicine and that people are using it (probably more than they are willing to admit), but that it’s cost effective even at its legally limited state,” Harrison said.

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