Medical Cannabis A Viable Strategy to Address the Opioid Crisis Advocates Hope Lawmakers Consider Cannabis as Strategy

August 09, 2016 | Melissa Wilcox

Today, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) released the Medical Cannabis Access for Pain Treatment: A Viable Strategy to Address the Opioid Crisis report to educate legislators and health practitioners on the benefits of medical cannabis as a treatment option for the millions of patients suffering from chronic pain. Prescription opioid use has increased dramatically over the last two decades, and in the same period the number of deaths attributed to opioid overdose have quadrupled, creating a national crisis.   

In a briefing released earlier this year, President Obama proposed $1.1B in new funding for a multi-pronged approach to address the opioid overdose epidemic. In July, Obama signed the  Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) into law. Many of the provisions in CARA focus on post-addiction strategies for treating drug abuse, heroin use, and overdose prevention strategies. Provisions that focus upstream, including addiction prevention strategies and ways to reduce the amount of opioids prescribed while still ensuring patients receive effective treatment, are underrepresented in the plan. While increasing funding for treatment programs is critical, it is equally important to utilize less harmful, treatment options.

ASA’s report outlines research and data supporting cannabis as an effective treatment option and provides three recommendations:

“We know that patients across the US are successfully utilizing cannabis to treat pain”  said ASA’s Executive Director Steph Sherer.  “ It is not a coincidence that opiate deaths are down nearly 25% in the states that allow medical professionals and their patients to utilize cannabis therapies as a treatment option. The Medical Cannabis Access for Pain Treatment: A Viable Strategy to Address the Opioid Crisis report shows that access to medical cannabis for pain treatment would help address two major components of the opiate crisis; accidental overdoses and addiction.”

In February, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called on the CDC to collaborate with states and other federal agencies on the exploration of “alternative pain relief options” including medical cannabis. Additionally, she requested that the CDC evaluate the impact of medical and recreational cannabis on opioid overdose deaths in states where it is legal. Data gathered from states that have medical cannabis programs has shown a 24.8% reduction in deaths attributed to opioid related overdose compared to states without programs.

Some states have already taken action to include cannabis as an alternative treatment for chronic pain.  In June 2016, Vermont Governor Pat Shumlin signed legislation that added chronic pain to the state’s list of qualifying health conditions for medical cannabis treatment saying, “At a time when opioid addiction is ravaging our state and drug companies continue to urge our doctors to pass out painkillers like candy, we need to find a more practical solution to pain management.” Of the 26 states with full medical cannabis programs, only about three quarters currently include chronic pain as a qualifying condition.

ASA delivered the report to all members of Congress and is encouraging its members to discuss the report with their Representatives at their home offices. The report will also be sent to states that have medical cannabis programs that that do not include chronic pain as a qualifying condition.

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