The Vermont Public Radio story by Anna Van Dine told of the untimely death of Matthew Hayes, a young Vermont man, who died from an opioid overdose. His family laid the blame, in part, on the pandemic relief aid that put thousands of dollars in the hands of troubled young adults. Many physicians across the U.S. and in Vermont believe the increased availability and destigmatized use of marijuana by young people is also partly to blame.
Matthew was one of 215 Vermonters who died in 2021 from an opioid overdose — the highest number on record. As has been widely noted, “This surge (in opioid overdoses) coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic — a prolonged period of isolation, stress, loneliness and anxiety.” Fewer have noted that the surge also coincides with a broader conversation and increased number of states with legal retail sale of marijuana, which destigmatize its use by young adults across the U.S. and in Vermont.
Two facts stand out from recent research:
· The COVID-19 pandemic increased marijuana use and worsened opioid mortality
· Opioid deaths have increased more where marijuana was legalized.
While the role played in Matthew’s death by relief aid was specific to one point in time during the COVID-19 pandemic, the conversation about how to safely introduce retail marijuana in Vermont is ongoing. The health harms of marijuana and high-potency THC can be minimized by intentional implementation based on the science of lessons learned in other states. Unfortunately, without ongoing public attention and media scrutiny of the prevention details of implementation, Vermont can expect to see many more young adults on a journey to an untimely death.
United States marijuana legalization and opioid mortality epidemic during 2010–2020 and pandemic implications, Journal of the National Medical Association, ScienceDirect