As the government talks about the real problem of opiate addiction, it is mysteriously silent on how the war on drugs makes it worse.
When U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said that America is facing a moral challenge when it comes to opiate addiction, no one was really surprised. There is no question about the fact that we are not dealing with pain management in an appropriate manner – bluntly, prescription opiates have reached the point where tonics and sodas containing cocaine and morphine were in the 19th century. That alone should be a disturbing issue, since it implies that we simply cannot learn from past mistakes.
For those of us who remember the days of Nancy Reagan imploring that we “Just Say No” to drugs, the lessons we are learning today about the connection between prescription drugs and heroin use are a wake-up call. The myths we learned about supposed gateway drugs are playing out not just in inner-cities, but in suburbia, where the biggest gains in illegal drug use are happening now thanks to addictions started by physicians. One major underlying problem is a lack of research into alternatives for pain management, which was addressed by Dr. William Maixner from Duke University’s Department of Anesthesiology.
Maixner points out the fact that we spend far more money on pain management, than we do on research for alternative pain management options. That is leading to far too many physicians over-prescribing opiates for pain, which is leading to far too many patients becoming addicted to the drugs. When the prescriptions run out, patients turn to street options, which includes heroin. Since we’re heading into a presidency that very well may remain focused on imprisoning addicts instead of focusing on treatment, this problem will very likely get worse.
While there is careful talk from Maixner about searching for alternatives to opioids for pain management, one glaring fact is ignored. As more states legalize Marijuana for medical use, more anecdotal evidence is building for it to be a viable alternative to opioids for pain. One unexpected use of concentrated THC – one form of medical marijuana – is to mitigate the withdrawal symptoms from methadone, a current treatment for heroin addiction.
As long as the federal government keeps marijuana illegal, there cannot be meaningful research on anything to do with the drug outside of proving how dangerous it is. While it’s possible that the findings of the anecdotal research being done now may not hold up in larger studies, that doesn’t justify the government’s continuing war on marijuana. Beyond the fact that many Americans have reached the point where they no longer see value in the “war on drugs” in general, it is now becoming obvious that the greater danger to public health is the over-prescribing of opiates. That, as Maixner points out, is a direct result of few options for pain management. The argument that it is just trading addictions falls flat in the face of the fact that we’re already doing that with methadone.
If you’re fed up with vicious cycle of the war on drugs, and would like to keep tabs on marijuana policy in your state, visit the Marijuana Policy Project. They keep track of legislative actions on marijuana across the country. However, with the new administration coming in, you might be more than a little concerned about a shift toward more “law and order,” which will mean more arrests of non-violent drug offenders – something American taxpayers simply can’t afford, since it also keeps truly dangerous criminals from remaining incarcerated. Take time to find out what it takes to get a question on the ballot in your state, and hit the streets. Remember, the people can effect change directly!