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Marijuana initiative opens doors to opioid prescription alternatives

Marijuana initiative opens doors to opioid prescription alternatives

Medical professionals in California who previously lacked federal approval to prescribe controlled substances might now recommend the use of recreational marijuana as an alternative to opioid medications, according to a report released Thursday by the California Workers’ Compensation Institute.

In the wake of voters on Tuesday approving Proposition 64, which permits the recreational use of marijuana, experts are preparing for the use of marijuana to expand in the workers comp sector, whether or not insurers eventually cover the costs, according to the report written by the Oakland, California-based nonprofit. 

The report specifically mentions chiropractors, naturopaths and registered nurses as the medical professionals who are unable to prescribe pain medications but may call on their patients to use marijuana.

The report cited a study in the journal Health Affairs that found that the prescription of painkillers in states where medical marijuana was legal decreased compared with states where marijuana is completely outlawed.

But, the report cautions that under federal law, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance and that employers ought to have policies in place to inform their employees about their drug-free workplace. The report also cited recent case law in other states that ruled in favor of the employer.

“Even if the comp claim is deemed compensable, employers still enjoy almost universal protection in disciplining employees for the presence of illegal substances, up to and including termination,” the report states.  


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  • Comp experts wary of medical marijuana use for injured workers

    DANA POINT, California — With medical marijuana being legal in 25 states and Washington — and with some of them mandating health insurance reimbursements — workers compensation experts say it is still unclear whether cannabis could replace highly addictive opioids in an effort to safely manage pain.
    “It’s a false choice,” said Michael Gavin, president of Prium, a Duluth Georgia-based medical cost management firm, during a panel discussion on trends in workers comp at the California Workers’ Compensation & Risk Conference in Dana Point, California this month. He warned that medical evidence is not conclusive on the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana.