Cannabis use among veterans soars as Ottawa cuts paybacks

published on May 6, 2018 by Mike Hager in The Globe and Mail

The number of Canadian veterans prescribed opioids or tranquilizers has declined significantly in the past six years while those authorized to use medical cannabis has skyrocketed, even as Veterans Affairs​ capped reimbursement for it.

Experts caution more in-depth research is needed but say these new data, released to The Globe and Mail by Veterans Affairs Canada, echo trends observed in U.S. states with legalized medical marijuana, where significant declines in opioid overdoses suggest that people may be substituting these oft-abused, addictive medicines with cannabis.

Stephanie Lake, a researcher with the BC Centre on Substance Use, said it is hard to know whether these drug trends are driven more by patients or their doctors.

Since 2008, the number of Canadians taking prescription sedatives – including benzodiazepines, but also sleep aids such as zopiclone – has remained steady at roughly 10 per cent of the population aged 15 and older, according to a bulletin issued last July by the government-funded Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. While illicit opioid use has skyrocketed in recent years, the number of Canadians prescribed this class of heavy painkillers has dropped from about 21 per cent in 2008 to 13 per cent in 2015, according to the latest available data from the Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey.

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