By Theodore Mattheiss
Elm Staff Writer
America is in the midst of an opioid crisis, and every day it claims more lives. The one-two punch of prescription painkillers and heroin has become difficult to combat, but those in the battle against opioid abuse have found an unexpected fighter in their corner: marijuana. According to a study conducted by Dr. Marcus Bachhuber, states that have legalized cannabis for medical purposes have seen opioid-related deaths drop by an average of 25 percent.
Opioids have gripped the population so effectively because, until recently, they have been grossly overprescribed to people suffering from any sort of pain. It’s not uncommon for doctors to enable those who have become addicted by continuing to prescribe the drugs even when they are no longer needed.
What makes the situation worse is that cutting off these prescriptions to addicts can be just as bad. Their addiction doesn’t go away when the pills do; they can and do turn to illegal sources, such as heroin, to get their fix when the pills run out.
Heroin, being a black market drug, is of course completely unregulated, and heroin producers are always looking for ways to cut the cost of making their product. Often these cuts take the form of using new synthetic chemicals mixed into the drug that are cheaper and more potent. The customers become guinea pigs that producers use to test the effects of these new chemicals.
Fentanyl is a textbook example of one such additive with devastating effects. It’s not uncommon for heroin producers to mix fentanyl into a batch of heroin without informing their customers. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, according to CNN, and if an unknowing heroin user takes their usual amount, unaware of this change, it can easily lead to a lethal overdose.
With the spread of medical marijuana across the country and its effectiveness in treating chronic pain, many of the medical conditions that lead to painkiller prescriptions can now be treated through this alternate system, rather than sending patients down the path of potential addiction.
The federal government needs to stop sleeping on this issue and legalize marijuana as soon as it can, nationwide, at least for medical purposes. It will be essential in our efforts to stop this crisis.
Twenty-nine states, along with Washington D.C., already have medical marijuana systems in place, or have recently passed legislation to implement these systems. At this point, across the country, federal marijuana reform already has popular support. The support for this movement has only continued to grow in recent years. I know people personally who have benefitted from the medical marijuana program that exists in Maryland.
Ironically, what used to be known as the gateway drug seems like one of the most promising avenues toward a country free of drug abuse. It’s time for Congress to admit it, and reform our national marijuana laws.