Prescription Drug Spending Drops in Medical Marijuana States

A new study shows that medical marijuana is bringing down Medicare spending in Washington, DC, and the 17 states that also have legalized it, to the tune of $165.2 million in 2013. University of Georgia researchers estimate the government program could have saved as much as $468 million if all states offered the drug as an alternative to prescription medications. Their review of Part D prescriptions from 2010–13, with a focus on medicines that could also be treated with medical marijuana, indicated that enrollees filled fewer orders during those years to relieve pain, anxiety, depression, nausea, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and spasticity. Prescriptions for glaucoma medicine rose, however, which researchers attribute to the fact that marijuana is an unrealistic option for these patients because it only offers relief for about 1 hour. That finding, they stress, signals that users of medical marijuana are motivated by medical urgency and not by the euphoric effects of the drug. The study is published in Health Affairs.