Pubdate: Tue, 20 Feb 2018
Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Copyright: 2018 Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Author: Jeff Caplan


Congressman Pete Sessions used a speech to a group of doctors and
other healthcare providers at an opioid epidemic summit Tuesday to
suggest that marijuana is the gateway to addiction and as a campaign
against the medical and recreational legalization movement.

The Republican from Dallas called the rising number of deaths from
opioid overdose a "national crisis" and implored those on the front
lines of the fight, the scientific and medical communities, he said,
to provide solutions he can bring to Congress, saying he will get the
appropriate funding added to next month's budget bill.

But his speech at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Region VI Opioid Summit at UT Southwestern, twice diverted to the
perils of marijuana, a subject none of the preceding five speakers
broached in discussing the dangers of misuse of prescription opioids
by people using them for relief of chronic pain.

Due to more stringent laws designed to make it more difficult for
those addicted to opioids such as painkillers to obtain them, some
seek out illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl that can lead to
overdose and death.

"Avoiding death is important, hear me say that, but learning what the
facts and factors are, who is a candidate for this, how do we teach
them, what does DNA matter to a 14-year-old, where do they start? If
it's marijuana, we ought to stand up and be brave in the medical
community to say this political direction is not right," said
Sessions, the chairman of the House Committee on Rules, who led a
panel on congressional perspectives about the opioid crisis.

"If addiction is the problem and we have marketers of addiction that
include marijuana -- because all you have to do is go to any of the
stores in Colorado and they can give you high to low to medium to
chocolate -- we ought to call for it what it is," Sessions continued.
"If it were nicotine, it would have been outlawed; well, it would have
been handled differently. But this is a political issue."

Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2014. Seven other
states, plus the District of Columbia have followed suit.

'Never had smoked marijuana'

Sessions echoed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who earlier this month
stated that "a lot of this," referring to the opioid crisis, "is
starting with marijuana and other drugs, too."

While marijuana is often the first drug people use, and can lead to
using harder drugs, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported "the
majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other,
'harder' substances." It also reported that "alcohol and nicotine also
prime the brain for a heightened response to other drugs and are, like
marijuana, also typically used before a person progresses to other,
more harmful substances."

Sessions, who is up for re-election this year, opened his comments
about marijuana, legalized in some form in 30 states and the District
of Columbia, told two personal stories that he believes condemns
marijuana as a beginner level drug for those ultimately seeking a
greater high.

"A dear friend of mine, David Siegel, a wealthy man, one of the
wealthiest men in America, had an 18-year-old daughter who was in
treatment, I believe for marijuana and maybe cocaine," Sessions said.
"She met a boy there and within three weeks after being out she was
dead. She came back and did what she had been doing after being off

The 18-year-old woman was Victoria Siegel, the daughter of the stars
of the "Queen of Versailles" documentary. She had reportedly struggled
with an addiction to an opioid used to control her seizures. The
report by the Orange County (Fla.) Medical Examiner's Office
determined her death was caused by an accidental overdose of methadone
and sertraline, both prescription medications.

Sessions later told of a Boy Scout he knew in Lake Highlands, who went
off to school at Texas A&M, and fell into heavy drug use started by
smoking marijuana.

"Never had smoked marijuana," Sessions said. "At the end of the first
year, he was well into it; the second year, he was into heroin. The
drive for addiction with some of our children is insatiable. You just
never know when you're looking at a kid what drives them. But parents
are desperate."

'More research necessary'

Dr. Vinila Singh, the Chief Medical Officer for the Office of the
Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, has been working closely with Sessions on the opioid
issue. She said marijuana has been shown to have medical value, but
that more research is needed to better determine potential long-term
gains and risks.

"I think with marijuana, there is more research necessary and that's
why a lot of large institutions don't take a stance yet," Singh said
at the summit.

Singh's presentation showed a statistic that 25.3 million American
adults, nearly 10 percent of the population, suffer from daily pain,
and of those, 23.4 million American adults report "a lot of pain." Her
report showed that 11.8 million Americans misused opioids in 2016 with
11.5 million having misused prescription pain relievers.

Users build a tolerance to opioids, requiring them to take increased
doses. Singh said she is not aware of studies showing a tolerance to
marijuana that would lead to harder drugs. Sessions said marijuana use
leads users to "want the next pop."

A study last year published by the American Journal of Public Health
indicated that the start of legal marijuana sales in Colorado may be
helping to lower prescription opioid overdose deaths in the state.
Colorado officials viewed the report with some skepticism.

It's authors, work at the University of North Texas Health Science
Center in Fort Worth, as well as at the University of Florida and
Emery University in Atlanta, acknowledged that more research is needed
to make a firmer determination.

Other studies have also indicated that legalized marijuana for medical
purposes such as pain management could reduce prescription drug abuse.

Texas recently made it legal to dispense medical marijuana to those
with intractable epilepsy.

Sessions, seated next to Singh during a brief interview session
following his speech, said he has been led to believe there are
"better alternatives, we don't have to go to that," referring to
liberalized marijuana laws. Singh said she needs more research data to
reach a conclusion.

"I referred to marijuana as merchants, this is a merchants of
addiction, they are making it more powerful and more powerful and more
powerful," Sessions said. "When I went to high school ... in 1973, I
graduated, marijuana, on average, is 300 times more powerful. That
becomes an addictive element for a child to then go to the next thing."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt