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On June 16, President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis held its first meeting to begin formulating recommendations on how to combat the opioid epidemic. The meeting provided compelling stories and thoughtful suggestions on how to resolve the opioid crisis. However, the suggestions that came out of this meeting were narrow; an increase in the availability and use of Naxolone or Narcan, which is a pharmaceutical that blocks the effects of opioids, further doctor education on the prescribing of opioids, and broad adoption of CDC guidelines and basing policy on evidence based research.
Unsurprisingly, medical cannabis was not mentioned once by any member of the Commission or any witness. Although Americans for Safe Access was not included on the list of invited nonprofits, we did submit comments to the commission urging them to consider using cannabis as a tool in the fight against opioids. In developing their recommendations to the President, the Commission will consider all comments that were submitted, both at the hearing itself and submitted in writing.
A major theme of the Commission was encouraging more research and developing evidence based policies. Unfortunately, the Commission appears to be selective in which evidence it is willing to believe. The evidence is clear. Medical cannabis can help the opioid crisis. A 2014 study indicated that in states with medical cannabis programs there was a 24.8% reduction in opioid deaths. A 2015 study found that in states with medical cannabis dispensaries there was a decrease in opioid deaths and opioid addictions. A studies from this year have indicated that there was a 13% decrease in hospitalizations related to opioid overdose in medical cannabis states and that patients spend significantly less on prescription medications in medical cannabis states compared to jurisdictions where cannabis remains illegal. These studies are only a few of many that clearly show cannabis can help reduce the number of preventable opioid deaths.
Jessica Nickel, of the Addiction Policy Forum, began her testimony to the Commission with the question “ What if we treated individuals through our healthcare system instead of our criminal justice system?” We need to pass legislation like the CARERS act so patients who use cannabis are no longer treated through the justice system. Patients who use cannabis for chronic pain are not criminals and it is time they be treated as such.
The comments of Americans for Safe Access are available in full here.
Ask your Congressional Members to co-sponsor the CARERS Act here.
The Commission's next meeting will be held on Monday, June 26, 2017 at 4:00PM. Members of the public may call in and listen via teleconference at (866) 233-3841, Access code 425352. Please call into the line five minutes before the call starts.