Every month in Utah, 24 individuals die from overdosing on legal, prescription drugs. This alarming trend ranked Utah as 4th in the U.S. for drug poisoning deaths from 2012-2014, outpacing deaths from firearms, falls, and motor vehicle crashes.
A new poll shows that this trend has affected the lives of nearly half of all Utahns. According to the poll, 47% of Utahns personally know somebody who is addicted to, or has overdosed on, prescription drugs. These overdoses have increased by 400% from 2000 to 2014.
The Utah Legislature went to great lengths in this past session to address this issue, passing five pieces of legislation addressing the opiate overdose issue, and committing taxpayer dollars to establishing the programs affected by these new laws.
The same group of legislators failed to pass legislation legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate… compared with states without medical cannabis laws.” In other words, it appears that legal access to cannabis—a far safer pain management therapy than opiates—reduces the number of lives lost through addiction to, and overdose on, prescription drugs.
If the 24.8% reduction rate were applied to Utah, that would mean the lives of six Utahns could be saved every single month. Legalizing medicinal cannabis can be achieved without costing taxpayers any money; those using cannabis would offset the regulatory costs through fees they would be required to pay. (Decriminalization, on the other hand, would require no regulation and therefore add no cost to sick Utahns already struggling to afford costly medical services.)
It is unfortunate that so much effort and attention is focused on programs and policies that may or may not reduce Utah’s alarmingly high opiate overdose rate, when so little legislative support can be found for allowing responsible, sick adults to consume cannabis and avoid the side effects, chemical dependency, and other risks associated with opiates.