THE OPIOID CRISIS
The opioid crisis is a very personal subject for me. Someone I deeply care about went through the vicious cycle of addiction that began with prescription painkillers and eventually lead to the abuse of heroin and fentanyl. I was there most of the way, attending meetings, doctor appointments, visiting detox and rehabilitation facilities, therapists, and psychiatrists. What I learned was that the system currently in place is inadequate to support addicts. The laws and legislation, and recycled proposals that never provide real solutions, do not go far enough. I want to hold prescribers and pharmaceutical companies responsible, and see opioids used only for short-term, post-operative and chronic pain under the supervision of a licensed pain management specialist.
My long-term solution to this crisis is cannabis. Marijuana is now being used to treat many of the problems for which opioids are prescribed: back pain, arthritis, and a wide array of chronic ailments. Cannabis has never killed anyone, and withdrawal is predominantly psychological. Opioids, in contrast, are physically addictive, and according to the CDC killed over 42,000 people in 2016 alone. Every state that has legalized cannabis have seen the death rate from opioid overdose drop by 25%.
The pain-relieving properties of cannabis are no longer hypothetical or anecdotal. The National Academies of Science, Medicine and Engineering released a landmark report finding conclusive evidence that cannabis is effective in treating chronic pain. Even more promising is the early research indicating that the plant could not only play a role in treating pain, but could be effective in treating addiction itself – meaning marijuana could be used as a potential exit drug to help wean people off of pills or heroin.
The supposition that cannabinoids can reduce cravings for opioids is further supported by a 2015 study published in the journal Neurotherapeutics, which found that CBDs were effective in decreasing the desire for heroin amongst addicts, and remained effective for an entire week after being administered.
Despite mounting evidence, the federal government maintains that the marijuana plant and its constituent compounds have no medical potential whatsoever. It isn’t hard to understand why, between 2006 and 2015 painkiller-producing pharmaceutical companies and their affiliated non-profits spent over $880 million nationwide on lobbying and political donations. To underscore this number, that’s eight times the amount spent by the gun lobby in the same decade. They are powerful, they are wealthy, and they have been funding the anti-pot lobby for a long time. The people who sell us medicine care more about profit than they do about human health.
Even in the face of fierce opposition from entrenched interests and members of the federal government, I believe legal cannabis could replace opioids in many circumstances, saving hundreds of thousands of lives over the course of the next decade and beyond.