Medical Cannabis: A Solution to the Opioid Epidemic
In the grip of an opioid epidemic in which several thousands die each year the stats regarding opioid overdoses have continued to rise. For many who have died from heroin abuse in the past decade, the gateway drug was opioid painkillers. The problem here is that not only are opioids over-prescribed, they're obviously abused, too. What makes the story even darker is that there are viable alternatives to prescription drugs for pain: namely, medical cannabis, breathing exercises, and relaxation therapy.
It is undeniable that we're facing a crisis with opioid addiction and related deaths. Still, the medical community continues to exhibit a delayed response to a national epidemic that is certainly, in part, their fault. Doctors are over-prescribing opioid painkillers, which then often fall into the hands of those without honest or legal intentions. Patients who have valid prescriptions unwittingly become part of the problem when when they sell their unused pills or when family members or friends raid their medicine cabinets. In 2014, the year Mr. Hoffman died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued Vital Signs, a report on the findings of an extensive study of the state of our opioid addiction problem. Here are just a few of the discoveries:
-10 of the highest prescribing states for painkillers are in the south
-Physicians who over-prescribe are to blame
-Each day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers
-The more opioid prescriptions doctors write, the more overdose deaths we have
The federal government aims to do something about this, in what's being called the new drug war. The White House is calling on the medical community to ante up and do their part to fix a problem they helped create.
Part of the remedy suggested by the Feds is better training to recognize opioid abuse in patients. Another tactic is opening up discussion with patients about alternative pain therapy. This past February, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to the head of the CDC suggesting one of those alternatives might be medical marijuana:
"I encourage the CDC... to fill the gap in our knowledge about the use, uptake, and effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal"
-Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
With pressure continuing to build on legislators and the President, we can only hope change is coming. Although it takes efforts from everyone: government, doctors, and the community, we might someday see a better scenario, where opioids are replaced by medical cannabis and there are fewer deaths of those just seeking relief from pain.