What role can cannabis play in combating the opioid epidemic?
The addiction, destruction, and death caused by opiate abuse in America has resulted in a crisis.
"With approximately 142 Americans dying every day, America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks." (Christie, 2017)
How did it get this bad? Consider the following data uncovered by Eric Eyre in his Pulitzer Prize winning coverage of the Opioid crisis in West Virginia.
"In six years, drug wholesalers showered the state with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills, while 1,728 West Virginians fatally overdosed on those two painkillers" ... "The unfettered shipments amount to 433 pain pills for every man, woman and child in West Virginia." (Eyre, 2016)
"The wholesalers and their lawyers fought to keep the sales numbers secret in previous court actions brought by the newspaper." (Eyre, 2016)
If there is a place for conversation about gateway drugs, it is in the small space between opiate prescription, relief, dependence, and addiction. "In 2015, nearly two-thirds of drug overdoses were linked to opioids like Percocet, OxyContin, heroin, and fentanyl." (Christie 2017). When patients are prescribed opiate painkillers, they are by nature in a vulnerable place. This slippery slope is manageable, but it takes planning and communication between the patient, their healthcare provider, friends, and family. As a community, we should ask, "How can we make Cannabis a part of the solution?"
Studies have shown that "Medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates." (Bachhuber, 2014)
Barriers to accessing Cannabis include social stigma and a lack of acceptance within the current medical paradigm. Neither years of anecdotal evidence, nor a few promising studies will make cannabis part of the establishment's pain relief dialogue. While there are certainly compassionate mavericks who broach the subject, Cannabis treatment will not become a part of medical school curriculum until years of controlled, double blind studies affirm and reaffirm its effectiveness. Even when that point is reached, it will take more years until the doctors that receive that education grow into the practitioners caring for us. By simply talking about Cannabis we can reduce stigma, give people social permission to try, and increase the speed at which medical Cannabis becomes part of the healthcare establishment. Whether you ask for your doctor's opinion on Cannabis, speak up about how it has helped you, or even just speak with friends and family, communication is where most of the important progress will be made
Bachhuber MA, Saloner B, Cunningham CO, Barry CL. Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1999-2010. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(10):1668–1673. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.4005
Christie, C., Baker, C., Cooper, R., Kennedy, P., Madras, B., & Bondi, P. (2017). Draft Interim Report (United States of America, The Office of National Drug Control Policy, President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis).
Eyre, E. (2016, December 17). Drug firms poured 780M painkillers into WV amid rise of overdoses. Charleston Gazette-Mail. Retrieved September 25, 2017, from http://web.wvgazettemail.com/news-health/20161217/drug-firms-poured-780m-painkillers-into-wv-amid-rise-of-overdoses