As the nation debates the Affordable Care Act and the future of Medicare, a federal agency is reporting that legalizing marijuana may be one way to control costs. The agency, surprisingly enough is the National Institutes of Health.
According to a grant application on the NIH website:
Over half of the United States population now resides in a state where some form of marijuana use is legal. Individuals in these states are less likely to report that marijuana use is harmful, and longitudinal data suggest an increase in marijuana use among older adults from 2008 to 2012. Interestingly, patient expenditures from 2010 to 2013 for FDA-approved prescription drugs under the Medicare Part D Plan dropped in states with legalized medical marijuana use. This emerging trend suggests that older adults may be substituting prescription drugs with marijuana.
The NIH made the statement in a research project grant application named “Marijuana, Prescription Opioid, or Prescription Benzodiazepine Drug Use Among Older Adults” that is designed to “support innovative research that examines aspects of marijuana and prescription opioid and benzodiazepine use in adults aged 50 and older.”
Opioid and benzodiazepine use by older adults is associated with increased incidence of falls, respiratory failure, sedation, confusion, and cognitive impairments, the NIH reports. And the percentage of opioid and benzodiazepine use among the over-50 crowd has doubled since 2007. Prescription drug use patterns during older age are more problematic for women as they are prescribed these drugs more often, consume them in larger quantities, and use them for longer durations of time.
The NIH reports that these alarming trends are accompanied by rising deaths due to drug overdoses among those approximately in this same age group. A recent study revealed that a third of participants over the age of 60 were using at least one potentially inappropriate medication, defined as medications with risks that outweigh the potential benefits of the drug.