Can Marijuana Help Solve the Opioid Epidemic?

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Patients Are Ditching Opioid Pills for Weed

 

James Feeney, a surgeon in Connecticut, heard it from his patients. A few actually turned down his prescription for oxycodone, the popular opioid painkiller that has also gained notoriety with the opioid epidemic. His patients, Feeney recalls, would say, “Listen, don’t give me any of that oxycodone garbage. … I’m just going to smoke weed.”

“And you know what?” says Feeney. “Every single one of those patients doesn’t have a lot of pain, and they do pretty well.”

Marijuana has worked well enough, anecdotally at least, that Feeney is following his patients’ lead and conducting a trial at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, CT. The state-funded study will compare opioids and medical marijuana for treating acute pain, such as that from a broken rib.

That distinction—acute pain from an injury—is also an important one. A small body of evidence suggests that medical marijuana is effective for chronic pain, which persists even after an injury should have healed and for which opioids are already not a great treatment. But now Feeney wants to try medical marijuana for acute pain, where opioids have long been a go-to drug.

“The big focus from my standpoint is that this is an attempt to end the opioid epidemic,” he says. Overdoses from opioids, which includes heroin as well as prescription painkillers like oxycodone and morphine, killed more than 30,000 people in 2015.

Marijuana might have a bigger role in curbing this drug abuse than previously thought. Its potential uses are actually threefold: to treat chronic pain, to treat acute pain, and to alleviate the cravings from opiate withdrawal. And it has the advantages of being much less dangerous and addictive than opioids.

 

The Atlantic Feb 2nd 2016

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/02/marijuana-cannabinoids-opioids/515358/

 

 

Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999, and so have sales of these prescription drugs. From 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids.

Opioid prescribing continues to fuel the epidemic. Today, at least half of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.  In 2014, more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids.

The most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths include:

  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone (such as OxyContin)
  • Hydrocodone (such as Vicodin)

Overdose Deaths

Among those who died from prescription opioid overdose between 1999 and 2014:

  • Overdose rates were highest among people aged 25 to 54 years.
  • Overdose rates were higher among non-Hispanic whites and American Indian or Alaskan Natives, compared to non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics.
  • Men were more likely to die from overdose, but the mortality gap between men and women is closing.

CDC

Another problem going on today is the heroin epidemic. Heroin is usually cheaper than prescription drugs. Opiate pain medications cost the uninsured about $1 per milligram; so a 60-milligram pill will cost $60. You can obtain the equivalent amount of heroin for about one-tenth the price.

80% of the world’s pain pills are consumed in the United States, which has just 5% of the world’s population.  (www.cnn.com/2014/08/29/health/gupta-unintended-consequences/)

For pain management, medical marijuana and cannabis show some positive effects. Daily NSAID use can create many long term problems from GI bleeds, gastritis, pancreatitis, and kidney problems. Medical cannabis seems to be growing in popularity and explored in other areas of the health field with cancer patients and individuals with seizure activity. Today’s doctors are turning people into addicts on traditional opiate use and fueling todays heroin problems. Chronic pain management in our country is a disaster. More needs to be done to help these patients.

Dr. J

 

 

 

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