Morality VS Mortality - You Decide
The opioid epidemic has seemingly touched almost everyone in Michigan. According to the National Institute on Drug Use, we can see why that seems to be the case. In Michigan in 2016 there were 1762 opioid-related overdose deaths or a rate of 18.5 deaths per 100,000. The year prior there were 96.1 opioid prescriptions written per 100 people, while the national average was 70 per 100 people.
Researching the possibilities of how marijuana could relieve the opioid crisis led me to wonder how opioid overuse even came to be a thing. In the late 1990’s the pharmaceutical companies convinced the medical community that there was no risk of dependency when using these drugs. More and more doctors began to prescribe this type of drug before fully understanding the risks, and in 2015 - just a short time after we were persuaded to begin using these drugs - 33,000 people died of an overdose caused by an opioid overdose. Two facts that I found quite interesting are that 4-6% of people who misuse prescription opioids turn to heroin, however, 80 % of heroin users first misused opioid prescriptions.
Don’t let the fact get by you that the US Food and Drug Administration regulates what types of drugs can be approved for use, and approved the use of the opioids that are the cause of the overdoses mentioned above. This is also the organization that lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 Drug on par with cocaine and heroin.
The number of opioid prescriptions centers around the fact that there are more than 100 million Americans that suffer chronic pain. This is a huge number of people who need to be able to find relief. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) indicates that marijuana may be a way to alleviate pain without the harmful side effects of opioids. By looking at death certificates and medical marijuana laws, researchers noticed that the rate of death as a result of opioid overdose was significantly lower -25% lower - in states which had legalized medical marijuana. Another study, conducted at the University of Michigan, showed that in 185 medical marijuana patients studied there was a 64% decrease in opioid use and the overall quality of life improved.
One of the benefits of marijuana is its ability to lessen pain. This ability to lessen pain is what could make marijuana a viable option in this fight. Former opioid users in Ohio believe that marijuana use can reduce the number of prescription opioids used, and could have an even bigger impact on the opioid crisis if offered as a first alternative to helping with pain. There are currently a few states that believe that marijuana is an option as New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania became the first of the 31 states with medical marijuana programs to allow doctors to treat opioid use with medical marijuana.
All of this is currently considered anecdotal evidence as funding for research is hard to come by from the government. Funds for research can be contributed by individuals, however, that individual cannot have ties to the marijuana industry. Researchers at UCLA are trying to provide the scientific evidence necessary to be able to determine how both THC and CBD in certain combinations can reduce the level of pain in an individual and thereby reduce the number of opioids needed to lessen the pain. The ultimate goal of their research is to find a way to stem the abuse of opioids and the opioid epidemic. A health policy analyst at the University of California San Diego has said that there is promise in reducing opioid addiction with marijuana, but without strong supporting evidence, it is too early to draw conclusions. She does believe that the UCL A study is much-needed research.
What does the title - Morality VS Mortality mean then? Marijuana shows a promising alternative to opioids, however, marijuana is illegal while medications such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), and codeine are legal but are significantly affecting our mortality rate, and at a higher rate in Michigan compared to much of the country. Without research on marijuana, we will not know the full benefits, or indeed any potential side effects. The proper research cannot be done while marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug. I believe in our system of government (yes still - I believe in the institution), and with an overwhelming support of legalization, I believe the government will reconsider the reclassification and legalize marijuana. The first step is to show our representatives that we support legalization at the state level. How? It’s pretty simple. Vote to support legalization in November.