Among veterans, opioid prescription requests down in step with rise in medical pot

Among veterans, opioid prescription requests down in step with rise in medical pot
June 8, 2016 summertreead

Photo: John Lehmann / The Globe and Mail

-The Globe and Mail-

Fewer Canadian veterans have sought prescription opioids and tranquillizers in recent years, while at the same time prescriptions for medical marijuana have skyrocketed.

It is not clear whether the two are related, but the trend echoes what researchers have found in U.S. states with medical-cannabis laws.

New data provided to The Globe and Mail by Veterans Affairs Canada show that over the past four years, the number of veterans prescribed benzodiazepines – with brands such as Xanax, Ativan and Valium – had decreased nearly 30 per cent. Opioid prescriptions also shrank almost 17 per cent during that same period.

In a report last month, the Auditor-General warned Veterans Affairs to rein in spending on its coverage of medical marijuana. Government reimbursements for veterans’ pot prescriptions had ballooned from fewer than a hundred patients costing $284,000 four years ago to more than 1,700 former soldiers charging the department $20-million last fiscal year.

This set of statistics is too small and unrefined to prove any concrete links between the use of the three drugs. But American research showing significant declines in opioid overdoses where medical marijuana has been legalized suggests that people may be substituting these oft-abused medicines with cannabis, according to Thomas Kerr, a researcher with theB.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

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