Rob Ryan is president of the Ohio chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a study on the role of marijuana and overdose deaths due to opioids, or narcotic painkillers. The study documented a very strong connection between states with medical marijuana laws and significant reductions in the death rates due to opioid overdoses.
The investigators were from the University of Pennsylvania, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. They conducted a time-series analysis of all 50 states’ death certificate data from 1999 to 2010 and reported, “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.”
Specifically, overdose deaths from opioids decreased by an average of 20 percent one year after the law’s implementation, 25 percent after two years, and up to 33 percent by years five and six.
According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Dr. Lynn Webster, a past president of the academy, said he’s not surprised by the study results or that marijuana might be a safer alternative to opioids for some people.
But Ohio law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance. Schedule I, in layman’s language, is an illegal substance that is deadly and addictive with no medical use. The exact criteria for a schedule I substance is provided below.
· The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
· The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
· There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
Pain patients are often subjected to drug testing, which is medically valid to help control dosage levels. But some clinics (not all) force their patients to sign a “pain contract” that forbids them to use marijuana in conjunction with their medical treatment. Studies show a synergistic analgesics effect when cannabinoids and opiates are used in concert with one another.
There is no law requiring pain clinics to impose these restrictive pain contracts. Ohio NORML is aware, from members who suffer from intractable pain, that the use of marijuana allows them to decrease the amount of opioid drugs they need to control their pain.
Pain patients have a responsibility to use these dangerous opioids as recommended and to be honest with their doctors. Doctors have taken an oath to save lives; now we need doctors who are committed to saving lives by recognizing the truth about the pain-relieving properties of marijuana.
It is Ohio NORML’s position that the full therapeutic benefits of marijuana will only be fully realized when marijuana is re-legalized.
Paul Armentano, Ohio NORML’s deputy director, contributed to this article.
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