State data shows marijuana-related E.R. visits steady

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A study published last month found that in the five years following Colorado's legalization of marijuana, cannabis-related emergency room visits tripled.

While the methods used to collect the information are more detailed than current surveillance methods in Alaska, state health leaders say the same trend is not apparent in Alaska.

"The Colorado study was a detailed chart review looking at the patient records, and Alaska has not conducted a study of that sort," Alaska Marijuana Education Program Manager Eliza Muse said. "We did take a look at our general hospital records, which are reports back to our section of epidemiology, and while we didn't capture the same data that marijuana study did, we aren't really comparing apples to apples because we're just looking at what hospitals are reporting to us and not doing a detailed chart review in the same way that Colorado did."

Muse said that if a patient visits a hospital and a marijuana-related condition is a primary or secondary cause, that information is entered into a database. Muse says the state consistently sees an average of eight to nine general marijuana-related emergency room visits and one to two visits caused by edibles across the state each month.

"That will get reported to our section of epidemiology, and if we're seeing anything unusual or a clustering of events related to marijuana use or otherwise, they'll let us know so that we can really see and understand the full picture of what's happening," Muse said.

Although the data is different, Muse says the takeaways from the study translate to Alaskan marijuana users.

"It's really important that if you are a first-time user to read those warning labels and instructions on your marijuana products if you are purchasing them from the storefront. Those warnings are there for a reason," Muse said. "If you're using those products, always put them back in the child-proof container that they were purchased in. That child-proof container is really important to prevent unintended or accidental ingestion by pets, by other family members and kids."

With the 4/20 holiday this weekend, Muse points to another study out of California that found an increased rate of fatal and serious automobile accidents where marijuana was involved on 4/20.

"In Alaska, we have zero tolerance when it comes to driving impaired under marijuana. So if you're going to consume marijuana tomorrow, or any day, have a plan, have alternative modes of transportation. Don't drive," Muse said.

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