Pubdate: Thu, 11 Sep 2014
Source: Boulder Weekly (CO)
Copyright: 2014 Boulder Weekly
Author: Leland Rucker


The numbers are compelling. As Americans seek more relief from pain 
and companies come up with ever-stronger drugs to ease discomfort, so 
do mortality rates rise for the growing number of patients who use 
opioid pain relievers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
estimates that 46 people a day die from opioid overdoses. More people 
- - 16,000 or so - die from opioid misuse than from any illegal drugs 
in any given year.

Opioids, psychoactive chemicals that resemble morphine or other 
opiates in their pharmacological effects, are among the oldest 
medicines mankind has used.

Their benefit in dealing with severe and chronic pain is 
unquestionable, and when they are used correctly and under 
supervision, they are certainly valuable, lifesaving medications. But 
as the figures above illustrate, they can be easily misused and abused.

There hasn't been a lot of research on the relationship between 
cannabis and opioids and pain relief. But studies suggest that 
cannabis might help combat some discomfort and aid in stress relief 
in conjunction with opioids.

"Impact of Cannabis Use During Stabilization on Methadone Maintenance 
Treatment," published last year by The American Journal on 
Addictions, concluded that addicts who use cannabis during withdrawal 
have less severe symptoms than those who don't. Another, "Medical 
Cannabis Laws and Opioid Analgesic Overdose Mortality in the United 
States, 1999-2010," published Aug. 25 in the Journal of the American 
Medical Association, looked at death rates for opioid use in states 
where medical cannabis laws were in place during the time of the 
study (1999-2010).

The researchers found that states that allowed medical cannabis had 
25 percent less deaths from opioid painkillers than states that didn't.

Am I saying that access to cannabis lowered death rates from opioids? 
Of course not. The authors of the latest study state up-front that 
their conclusions beg for more intensive research beyond parsing 
numbers. "Further investigation is required to determine how medical 
cannabis laws may interact with policies aimed at preventing opioid 
analgesic overdose," they write.

The risk for opioid abuse is much higher than the risk of abuse for 
cannabis, and withdrawal symptoms are much worse for opioids than for 
cannabis. So if studies show cannabis could help, it would seem to be 
a win-win for everyone: Another tool for doctors while lowering the 
chances of people abusing prescription drugs.

For some corporate medicine companies, the possibility of using 
cannabis for pain also creates the possibility that their bottom 
lines could be negatively affected. In a recent report, Vice found 
that some leading prohibitionists who toe the line against medical 
cannabis on television and in print as "leading scientific voices" 
are also paid consultants for leading pharmaceutical companies, many 
which make opioid-based pain relievers.

Who should really be surprised? The prohibitionist movement, though 
losing ground quickly, is still alive and well and stigmatizing 
cannabis, and corporations protect their interests whenever threatened.

But when supposedly credible spokespeople are being paid by drug 
companies, it leads you to wonder what else are they lying about.

This is hardly the first time that medical corporations have been 
caught putting profits ahead of healing. "Big Pharma and Health Care: 
Unsolvable Conflict of Interests Between Private Enterprise and 
Public Health," a 2008 study of pharmaceutical company practices, 
found all kinds of problems, including sophisticated but questionable 
marketing techniques, companies conducting their own clinical trials, 
pervasive lobbying, political ties that limit the independence of 
regulatory bodies and manipulating media.

Why can't, at the very least, these "experts'" ties to drug companies 
be listed alongside their academic credentials when they speak in 
front of a national television audience? "Experts" on the other side 
are regularly listed as members of pro-cannabis organizations.

Dr. Herbert Kleber, for instance, is listed as a psychiatrist from 
Columbia University (which he is) and a substance-abuse expert. He's 
an influential prohibitionist voice, all over the internet and 
television, speaking at conferences and writing columns for 
mainstream publications. But his "credentials" never mention that he 
is a paid consultant to Alkermes, which makes Zohydro, a powerful new 
opioid pain reliever, and Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, an 
opioid that has a high rate of abuse in the U.S.

Now those connections might not be significant, and it's entirely 
possible that the "consultancy" money Dr. Kleber and others receive 
from those companies never influences anything they say or write 
about cannabis. Perhaps they believe everything they say. And I 
understand that prescription drugs are a multi-billion-dollar 
cutthroat industry - drug companies spend far more today to advertise 
their products than they do on research.

But really, academics on television vilifying another product at the 
behest of corporate profits? Could medical companies, or the 
professors spewing the corporate line for the dough, sink any lower? 
Surely the academics, since they know so much about cannabis, 
recognize the significant problems with opioids.

Ah, but they never mention that.

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado 
cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU. 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom