Pubdate: Wed, 03 Sep 2014
Column: Higher Ground
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Copyright: 2014 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Valerie Vande Panne


Last week, The Washington Post asked, Is medical marijuana the answer 
to America's prescription painkiller epidemic? The article looked at 
a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, titled "Medical 
Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United 
States, 1999-2010."

The study began with the reasoning that because painkiller overdose 
deaths continue to skyrocket in the U.S., and because medical 
marijuana is considered a treatment for chronic pain in states where 
it's legal, medical marijuana states might have lower prescription 
painkiller overdose rates.

The researchers concluded that states with medical marijuana laws 
have 24.8 percent fewer opioid painkiller overdose deaths than states 
where prohibition is still in full effect. It also found that the 
longer the medical marijuana law was in effect, the lower the number 
of overdose deaths.

Opioid painkillers include brand name drugs such as Oxycontin, 
Lortab, MS Contin, and Vicodin.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 
"Drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than 
tripled since 1990 and have never been higher. In 2008, more than 
36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths were 
caused by prescription drugs."

Further, "The sharp rise in opioid overdose deaths closely parallels 
an equally sharp increase in the prescribing of these drugs. Opioid 
pain reliever sales in the United States quadrupled from 1999 to 2010."

The CDC's data also shows that in Michigan, in 2010 there were 8.1 
kilos of prescription painkillers sold per 10,000 people.

Marijuana, as you might have figured out by now, has never killed 
anyone who has consumed too much of it.

Michigan has been a medical marijuana state since 2008. You can see 
on this chart how prescription painkiller overdose death rates have 
fallen since.

Back in 2009, I covered a single mother of three (who I called Mary 
Jones), who, following a severe work-related injury, nearly lost her 
leg. Doctors were able to save it, but the ensuing treatment had her 
on a cocktail of prescription drugs that included two different types 
of morphine (an opiate). She was a self-described zombie. A doctor 
told her some patients found relief with marijuana - but doctors also 
advised her that it would be too dangerous to get off the prescription drugs.

She did it anyway, weaning herself from the opioids and onto 
marijuana. With marijuana, she became a functional, active mother 
again, and a medical marijuana advocate.

Years later, I met a man in a medical marijuana state who thanked me 
for that story. He'd had a back injury, and was on a cocktail of 
painkillers for it. He'd always looked down on people who used 
marijuana, but he was inspired by Mary Jones, and slowly stopped 
taking the pills and started medicating with marijuana. His life, he 
said, was much better. He was active, and was no longer dependent on pills.

These are just two anecdotal stories. But they hint at a larger 
cultural phenomenon occurring in medical marijuana states, where 
people who suffer from pain are able to make the choice to forgo 
opioid pills for a plant that is cultivated by themselves, or someone 
or someplace they trust.

And this isn't to say that opioids are bad: Certainly, there are 
people who suffer so greatly an opiate is truly the only relief.

What all of this really lends itself to is suspending judgment, 
listening to people, and ending the prohibition on marijuana and then 
conducting more much-needed research. After all, prescription pills 
are killing more Americans every year than marijuana has in its 
entire history. By ending prohibition, further research into how it 
works, with whom, for what, and why, can and will be conducted.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom