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Medical Marijuana Saves Lives

With so many political crises to attend to daily, it’s hard not to let important issues fall by the wayside. However, with the unveiling of the Republican plan to reform the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the powerful opposition to that plan, nothing is being done to address the opioid abuse epidemic our nation faces. Every day we turn our attention to other matters, Americans die of overdose. But there is something we can do while the national debate on health insurance rages – encourage the use of medical marijuana for pain sufferers.

More than half the states in the nation and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of marijuana. Although the current administration has vowed not change marijuana’s status as an illegal substance on a national level, there is real reason to allow marijuana for medical use. In states where medical marijuana is legal, those with pain conditions will often choose marijuana over opioids, reducing the number of overdose deaths in those states by 25%.

Pharmaceutical companies have fought the use of medical marijuana, even though it clearly saves lives. In states with legal medical marijuana, fewer opioid prescriptions are written and filled, cutting into profits. The pharmaceutical companies are not beholden to patients, but to shareholders. Because of this, patients must be vocal advocates for their own healthcare needs.

The number of opioid related deaths in the United States has been rising since the turn of the century. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that more than 50,000 people died of overdose in this country in 2015, outpacing fatalities for car crashes.

No substantive action has yet been taken by the new administration to address the opioid overdose problem. In fact, proposed changes to the ACA may make it more difficult for those with substance abuse problems to receive treatment. By ending Medicaid expansion and changing funding for Medicaid to a block grant system, it is estimated that millions of the most vulnerable Americans will lose their health coverage. Estimates suggest that as many as ten million people would be negatively affected. Among other groups, the American Medical Association has come out against the Republican proposed health plan because it will cut services to too many vulnerable patient groups.

What can Americans do? First, if you have a chronic pain condition and live in a state where medical marijuana is legal, talk to your physician about changing from opioids to marijuana or a comprehensive pain management program that includes acupuncture and meditation. Only you and your doctor know what is best for you, but you should explore all your options before filling a prescription for opioids. There could be alternatives that will work better for you long-term.

Second, if you have an opioid abuse problem, seek treatment wherever that treatment is available. There is a chronic lack of treatment beds in some parts of the nation, such as the Northeast, and other places where beds are available on demand. If you can travel to another part of the nation for treatment, do so.

Medical marijuana can help decrease the opioid overdose death rate. Saving lives is what matters.