The U.S. government is dealing with an opioid epidemic of its own making.
Americans make up about 4.6% of the world’s population but consume 80% of the world’s opioid supply, according to the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians. Opioids offer strong pain relief and are highly addictive (to the surprise of the whole of Congress), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet Cannabis, a Schedule 1 drug, remains criminalized under Federal law along with other Schedule 1 narcotics like heroin.
In the last 16 years, more than 183,000 Americans have died from overdoses related to prescription opioids. 40 Americans die every day from opioid prescription drug overdoses, said the CDC. Over the same period, there have been virtually no deaths attributable to cannabis.
The data show the problem of opioid addiction is growing. This is from a 2016 report prepared by the American Society of Addiction Medicine:
- Four of every five heroin users start by misusing prescription painkillers.
- 94% of people in treatment for opioid addiction said they turned to heroin because prescription opioids were “far more expensive and harder to obtain.”
This crisis was engineered by the U.S. government from the influence – or legalized corruption – working in the U.S. political system that influence policy decisions based on the short-term financial appetites of lobbying groups.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department and other tentacles of President Trump’s administration are looking for new ways to scapegoat the cannabis industry and derail the wave of state-level cannabis legalizations.
Today, a total of 29 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs. Eight states have legalized recreational/adult use of cannabis.
Pharmaceutical Companies Influence
In the last decade, the pharmaceutical industry has spent more than $880 million at the state and federal level to fight regulations that would limit the availability of powerful opioids such as OxyContin, Vicodin and fentanyl in the U.S., according to an investigation by the Associated Press (AP) and the Center for Public Integrity.
According to the AP report, prescription opioids are the cousins of heroin, prescribed to relieve pain. Sales of the drugs quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, rising in tandem with overdose deaths. In 2015, the U.S. doled out 227 million opioid prescriptions by legal physician advice, enough to hand a bottle of pills to nine out of every 10 American adults.
Federal Reserve Chair
The economic impact of the opioid hellscape has even reached the Federal Reserve.
In her testimony before the Senate Banking Committee in July, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said rampant opioid abuse in the U.S. is related to the decline in labor force participation among prime-age workers.
“I don’t know if it’s causal or symptomatic of long-running economic maladies that have affected these communities and particularly affected workers who have seen their job opportunities decline,” Yellen said in response to questioning from Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., on the issue.
The U.S. is “the only advanced nation that I know of where in these communities we’re actually, especially among less-educated men, seeing an increase in death rates partly reflecting opioid use,” she added.
President Trump launched a task force, the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, to address the crisis. The group issued a preliminary report stating that its “first and most urgent recommendation” is for the President to “declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act.”
“With approximately 142 Americans dying every day,” the report notes, “America is enduring a death toll equal to September 11th every three weeks.”
The commission, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, states that the goals of such a declaration would be to “force Congress to focus on funding” and to “awaken every American to this simple fact: if this scourge has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will.”
It is unclear whether the “campaign contributions” spent to first legalize the widespread prescription use of opioids and then to prevent the limiting of their use will have to be returned by the state and federal politicians who benefited from them. What is clear is that the medical community, itself the vector of transmission of this scourge, has done nearly nothing to slow prescription growth in recent years as the massive wave of death sweeps the nation.