Drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States.
The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths. The amount of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, yet there had not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans reported. Deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have more than quadrupled since 1999.
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.
Many of the same people who want to restrict cannabis research and legalization created the present prescription opioid crisis. The U.S. federal government is the final arbiter in the regulation of medicines consumed by Americans.
According to David Armstrong of medical news site STAT, “When that [Oxycontin] came on the market in 1996, sales of the drug were about $50 million. By 2002, sales of this drug were $1.6 billion, and they have continued at that clip ever since, exceeding well over $30 billion in sales. That’s just one drug. So that gives you an idea of the scale here of the amount of money involved.”
Justification for introducing prescription opioids to the general public for pain management reads like the justification former President Bush used to invade Iraq (weapons of mass destruction) or the “dominoes” theory that led to the U.S. slaughtering two million people in Vietnam. It was a single paragraph printed in the January 10, 1980, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine:
ADDICTION RARE IN PATIENTS TREATED WITH NARCOTICS
To the Editor: Recently, we examined our current files to determine the incidence of narcotic addiction in 39,946 hospitalized medical patients’ who were monitored consecutively. Although there were 11,882 patients who received at least one narcotic preparation, there were only four cases of reasonably well documented addiction in patients who had a history of addiction. The addiction was considered major in only one instance. The drugs implicated were meperidine in two patients, Percodan in one, and hydromorphone in one. We conclude that despite widespread use of narcotic drugs in hospitals, the development of addiction is rare in medical patients with no history of addiction.
HERSHEL JICK, M.D.
Boston Collaborative Drug
Boston University Medical Center
Waltham, MA 02154
The major obvious flaw in this so-called scientific analysis was that the dangerous drugs were administered to pain patients in a controlled hospital environment. So a single study of a small group of people in a controlled environment was used by the medical establishment and lawmakers to set national policy on pain medication.
Even more alarming, a new study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine this year suggests that government estimates are failing to capture the full extent of the opioid crisis.
What has been done in the last few years, now that the data show the staggering human and financial toll? Virtually nothing. President Trump established a commission this year to examine the issue.
The price for this mistake is measured in the tens of thousands of humans lives lost and perhaps millions more who suffer through a shortened diseased life. Yet cannabis remains the evil monster Schedule 1 drug, the same classification as heroin.
The truth is that the cannabis industry will soon have the resources to buy its own policy in Washington the same way the pharmaceutical industry did for prescription opioids. Except this time the results will improve lives.