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By Steve Birr

A strong majority of Americans do not care if professional athletes use medically prescribed marijuana as an alternative treatment to opiate-based painkillers.

A new study from Yahoo News and Marist Poll shows public perception of marijuana is softening as legalization efforts continue to succeed in states across the country. It revealed roughly 67 percent of Americans think opioid painkillers pose greater health risks than medical marijuana. Opioids are widely recognized as an effective painkiller, but are also linked to the massive increase in heroin abuse and opioid related deaths in the U.S., which claimed 33,000 lives in 2015, reports CNN.

Researchers found roughly 69 percent of Americans are fine with athletes using medical marijuana, as long as it is prescribed by a doctor. A growing lobby of NFL players are advocating marijuana as an alternative to opioids, due to the risk of long-term addiction.

“The numbers of people who see it as acceptable to use marijuana, particularly under a doctor’s orders, has certainly grown,” Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll at the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, told CNN. “I think the attitudes of Americans have really been changing over time.”

A group of 1,800 former NFL players joined in a lawsuit against every team in the NFL originally filed in 2015, and amended in March 2017. The lawsuit alleges the league flagrantly ignored federal guidance on properly prescribing painkillers in order to keep players on the field, leading to crippling addiction. Players also allege they were deliberately misinformed by team personnel about the long-term risks associated with opioids.

The federal status of marijuana as a Schedule I drug alongside heroin leaves the NFL and other leagues with little legal room for major policy shifts on pot. While advocates understand the roadblocks, they are critical of how willing the NFL is to accept powerful prescription painkillers in place of less harmful alternatives.

A recent study suggests patients suffering from chronic pain and mental health conditions will choose marijuana over their addictive prescription drugs when given a choice by their doctor.

The study tracked 250 participants who were legally prescribed both marijuana and prescription medications including opioids, benzodiazepines like Xanax and antidepressants. Roughly 63 percent of the participants reported ditching their prescription pills for marijuana over the course of the study.

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