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Getty Images

More states are turning to medical marijuana as an alternative to the addictive prescription painkillers that have driven the public health crisis.

Why it matters: Recent studies found that states with legalized medical marijuana laws have seen lower opioid overdose death rates compared to states that ban it.

By the numbers: 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, about two-thirds of them from heroin, prescription opioids and synthetic opioids, according to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • 115 Americans die on average every day from an opioid overdose.
The state of play

New York has expanded the use of medical marijuana as a substitute for an opioid prescription, a move that was first announced last month. This also means that people suffering with from severe pain, which doesn't meet the definition of chronic pain, now qualify to receive medical pot.

  • Overdose deaths involving opioids have increased in New York by roughly 180% from 2010 (over 1,000 deaths) to 2016 (over 3,000 deaths), according to the state's health department.
  • "Adding opioid replacement as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana offers providers another treatment option, which is a critical step in combatting the deadly opioid epidemic affecting people across the state," New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, said in a statement.

Pennsylvania added opioid addiction to the Medical Marijuana Program’s list of qualifying conditions in May. Gov. Tom Wolf also licensed eight universities in the state to conduct clinical research on medical marijuana.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner will soon make a final decision on whether to sign bipartisan legislation, which would allow patients to buy medical pot from licensed dispensaries based on their doctors’ orders, into law.

  • The measure, passed by state lawmakers last month, would cut bureaucratic red-tape by preventing patients from waiting up to four months for approval and being denied access because of past criminal convictions.
  • Take note: A similar measure got vetoed this week in Hawaii by Gov. David Ige.

The big picture: The growing push to swap opioids with medical marijuna comes amid growing tension between state laws permitting recreational and medical marijuana, and the law enforced by the federal government classifying pot as an illegal narcotic.

  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed U.S. attorneys to more aggressively enforce the federal law, increasing confusion over how marijuana can be used in states where it’s legalized and making research about medical benefits more difficult.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.