To the Editor:
The recent Edge article on the opioid pain medication epidemic paints a stark and pessimistic picture about “legal” drugs that have already killed over two hundred thousand Americans and addicted many more. Thankfully we are beginning to talk openly about marshaling some important resources that are now available to help us cope with this catastrophe. Right now something new is happening in Massachusetts and in town of Great Barrington that can provide a useful tool to combat this deadly epidemic and help us limit its public health toll. A very important new resource, Medicinal Cannabis, has shown promising results to reduce the dangers of opiate pain medications.
Dramatic evidence of the capabilities of cannabis to reduce overdose deaths due to opioids was published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, where a group of medical researchers from Montefiore Hospital and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx found that the 29 states which have medical marijuana programs also have much lower rates of opiate overdose deaths, as compared to those states which do not offer this access to medicinal cannabis. These researchers used data from the CDC to chart opioid-related deaths in each state from 2000 through 2015 – the period of a 400 percent rise of overdose deaths in the US. This analysis showed “a statistically significant reduction” in the trend of opioid-related deaths – as much as 40 percent in some states which had made medical cannabis available earliest and for the longest periods.
Experts in addiction and harm reduction have known for years that one of the most important uses of medical marijuana is for pain reduction. In Massachusetts it has now become possible to get medicinal cannabis of known potency and quality through the expansion of the medical marijuana programs and doctors prescriptions in Massachusetts, which became the eighteenth state to allow medical marijuana … as of December 15, 2016, following a ballot initiative in November of that year.
The use of medical marijuana for pain reduction today represents the largest single reason for prescriptions for marijuana in those states that already have medical marijuana. These programs now legally serve over 1.2 million clients in 29 states – some for over 20 years.
California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996, was the first medical marijuana ballot initiative to allow the medical use of cannabis in America, and has served hundreds of thousands in that period, reducing suffering from many painful medical problems and saving many lives from opiate overdoses .
The legal availability of cannabis and it’s use to treat pain now opens an opportunity for us to learn through this experience and save many lives in our state. It can reduce the amount of addictive opioids now being so widely prescribed and, where opiate pain meds are appropriate, can help wean patients off the high doses of these addictive and dangerous “Legal” drugs. We must now learn all we can about these benefits and work closely with our local medical and psychiatric professionals who wish to participate in these programs. Let us take advantage of this opportunity and recognize that pot may indeed be a “gateway “ drug – one that can opens a new pathway to lowered rates of addiction and fewer overdoses in Massachusetts – which has already had over 13,000 overdose deaths, many of which might have been prevented if medical marijuana was in use in Massachusetts.