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Wednesday - April 4, 2018 2:16 am

Gundersen doctor skeptical on study supporting marijuana as replacement to opioids

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A local emergency room doctor is skeptical about a study that seems to favor legalizing marijuana.

The study, recently put out by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, stated that patients who had the availability of legal marijuana received less opiates.

Chris Eberlein, with Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, says he's heard this sales pitch before.

“There's been a big surge in money supporting pro marijuana — over $120 million,” Eberlein said. “We have to remember that studies also supported the usage of opioids, too — promoting their widespread use.”

The prescribing of opioids to treat pain has gone down the last couple of years. Eberlein said there are many reasons for that — one of which is a prescription drug monitoring program.

As for marijuana being used to treat pain, Eberlein isn’t buying it.

“In colorado, particularly, despite legalization, there has not been a reduction in deaths,” Eberlein claimed. “Quite the contrary in opioid deaths.

“Maybe marijuana will turn out to have some efficacy for pain. But we've got to sort this out a little bit more. I think this study brings to light good questions but we've gotta look at where we go from here.”

The JAMA study says in states where weed is legal, patients saw a 39 percent drop in opiates taken home.

“We need to look at other medications to treat and modalities to treat those pains. That's one of the things that needs to come out of this lesson with opioids — is that people have pain and we do a poor job of treating it.”

Eberlein says the data isn't conclusive enough yet that marijuana is an effective substitute to treat pain. He also worries about the impact on adolescent minds if used on teens.

Drew Kelly

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