It’s a new year and, finally, a new voice will be added to the drug war debate. The federal government will actually get scientific input on drugs, and it will make prohibition look all that much more absurd.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, the nation’s top public health official, will be “presenting the state of the science on substance use, addiction and health,” in the first-ever report from that office.
It’s time for us to have a conversation in this country that’s based on facts; A conversation that’s based on medicine and science.
Which is why I’m proud to announce that next year, I will be releasing the first-ever Surgeon General’s Report on substance use, addiction, and health. We’re going to look at the best science on everything, from heroin and marijuana, to alcohol and prescription opioids.
The report’s broad scope will look at the impact of all drugs, legal and illicit, “with the goal of capturing the current landscape of the impact of alcohol and drug issues on health…” to work toward “prevention, treatment and recovery.”
Areas of focus in the report may include the history of the prevention, treatment, and recovery fields; components of the substance use continuum (i.e., prevention, treatment, and recovery); epidemiology of substance use, misuse, and substance use disorders; etiology of substance misuse and related disorders; neurobiological base of substance misuse and related disorders; risk and protective factors; application of scientific research in the field, including methods, challenges, and current and future directions; social, economic, and health consequences of substance misuse; co-occurrence of substance use disorders and other diseases and disorders; the state of health care access and coverage as it relates to substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery; integration of substance use disorders, mental health, and physical health care in clinical settings; national, state, and local initiatives to assess and improve the quality of care for substance misuse and related disorders; organization and financing of prevention, treatment, and recovery services within the health care system; ethical, legal, and policy issues; and potential future directions.
The Surgeon General will undoubtedly confirm the preponderance of scientific evidence that has emerged on the medical benefits of cannabis. We have reported extensively on the various ways in which cannabis provides treatment for illnesses, both physical and mental. This should utterly demolish the federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug with “no currently accepted medical use.”
The fact that 23 states in the U.S. have recognized the benefits of medical cannabis, legalizing its use, should be reason enough to invalidate the Schedule 1 classification. A landmark study presented at the American Epilepsy Society showed the astonishing effectiveness of the cannabis extract cannabidiol (CBD) for treating epilepsy. The National Cancer Institute admitted that cannabis kills cancer cells. People use cannabis to treat a variety of conditions that arise from inflammation, such as Crohn’s disease and nerve pain, yet are being arrested for it and having their kids taken away.
We can only hope that the Surgeon General’s report serves to cure the primitive mindsets that still inhabit government, such as DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg who said medical cannabis is “a joke.” Tell that to the countless children whose lives have been saved by this incredible plant. To the drug warriors – child suffering – is a joke.
In the broader sense, the report should serve as a catalyst for government to change its stance on drug use and addiction. Instead of criminalizing this behavior—throwing people in jail, ruining lives and breaking up families—drug abuse should be treated by physicians and addiction centers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented data on drug overdose death rates from 2001-2014, and it does not look good.
Prescription drug overdose deaths have nearly tripled since 2001
Opioid overdose deaths have nearly quadrupled since 2001
Benzodiazepine overdose deaths have increased by more than 600% since 2001
Cocaine overdose deaths are up 42% since 2001
Heroin overdose deaths are up nearly 500% since 2001
In addition to this, “alcohol is killing Americans at a rate not seen in at least 35 years”—increasing 37 percent since 2002. These deaths are from causes such as alcohol poisoning and cirrhosis, and do not include deaths from drunk driving and other accidents. Contrast these statistics with cannabis, which has caused zero overdose deaths and causes virtually no driving impairment.
Clearly, the U.S. government’s approach to drugs is a failure. The criminalization of certain drugs, and the complicity in the use of alcohol and prescription pills, has only exacerbated the problem of abuse to epidemic proportions. Portugal, which took the opposite approach in 2001 by decriminalizing all drugs, has seen a drastic decline in drug use, overdoses and crime.
If the scientific input of the Surgeon General has any influence on government’s approach, we should move rapidly toward ending prohibition so drug abuse can be properly addressed. It will also highlight the fact that cannabis has potent medical benefits and causes no overdose deaths, which by any logic should bring decriminalization and freedom to Americans who use this plant.
Justin Gardner writes for TheFreeThoughtProject.com