Could marijuana replace OxyContin as the painkiller of choice?
As legal pot spreads across America, insurers might want to consider this alternative.
I had the honor last Friday of serving as keynote speaker for the annual conference of the Rocky Mountain chapter of IASIU held just outside of Denver. It was a well-attended meeting with good speakers and interesting topics — including one on the impact of legal marijuana on insurance.
With a few hours to kill before my plane departed, I decided to check out Colorado’s latest burgeoning industry and visit a marijuana dispensary to satisfy my curiosity (and impress my hip friends back home).
The dispensary in Boulder is called The Farm. It was a medical marijuana retailer before the state legalized recreational pot for adults on January 1. Entering the store, ID was required and scanned for validation.
“You wouldn’t believe how many underage kids try to use fake IDs to get in here,” the young woman behind the counter told me. After validation, she handed me a plastic chip with a number on it. She encouraged me to look around while waiting for my number to be called.
The store’s main section looked like a traditional jewelry store with several showcases of shiny merchandise. Instead of diamonds, glass bongs were featured. It was certainly more upscale — and expensive — than the head shops I recall from the 1960s and 70s.
A locked side room contained the featured merchandise on display. Only perhaps a half-dozen customers at a time were allowed in the room, where marijuana products were displayed along the walls and underneath glass display cabinets.
If more studies conclude marijuana is effective and relatively safe for pain relief, then insurers and government programs should consider getting out front to replace the widely destructive — and expensive — use of opiods.
I told the clerk I wasn’t buying but wanted to see what was available and just look around. He was accommodating and knowledgable of the many products available, from dozens of varieties of marijuana to edibles to oils.
As I wandered around, I noticed the clientele wasn’t anything like I imagined. One guy looked like a corporate middle manager. Another could’ve been a truck driver, and a middle-class, middle-aged woman also perused. None looked like the potheads I’d expected. Overhearing their conversations, I learned that all sought relief for some ache or pain. One had back problems and another customer had arthritis.The corporate guy was picking up a package I surmised was for a family member, perhaps wife or parent, who had cancer.
Different types and strains of marijuana are suggested for different ailments, the clerk told me. Some marijuana even is sold without the key ingredient that gets users high — and his clients attest that it’s still effective.
I’d always thought that medical marijuana was more of an excuse for stoners to get high legally, but new evidence out this week challenges that assumption.
If more studies conclude marijuana is effective and relatively safe for pain relief, then insurers and government programs should consider getting out front to replace the widely destructive — and expensive — use of opiods. Prescription abuse kills Americans by the thousands, and is creating the largest generation of heroin users this country has seen. Prescription drug diversion also imposes a huge dollar drain on insurers and government health programs.
Twenty-one states and DC now allow marijuana for medical use. I’d love to see a group of insurers or a state Medicaid program conduct a pilot program in one state to test pot vs. opiods such as the painkiller oxycodone..
I’m still not sold on the idea of legal recreational marijuana, but medical marijuana might help curb one of our nation’s most pressing problems of prescription drug abuse.
About the author: Dennis Jay is executive director of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.