By Jack Burns
As states across the country struggle to combat the alarming death toll resulting from the opioid epidemic, a new study is showing that the percentage of opioid-related deaths actually decreased in one state, after it legalized cannabis.
In a recently published research study in a peer-reviewed journal, Melvin D. Livingston, Tracey E. Barnett, Chris Delcher, and Alexander C. Wagenaar, set out to see if any association existed between Colorado’s legalization of marijuana and opioid-related deaths in the state.
The researchers looked at all of the available data from the year 2000 to the year 2015. What they discovered may come as a shock to many. While the rest of the nation struggles with a burgeoning fatal opioid and heroin overdose crisis, the State of Colorado saw opioid deaths reduced while its population exploded.
It has long been stated that cannabis is a “gateway” drug, which leads users to experiment with other drugs, leading up to the most deadly, such as heroin. But the researchers in the study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the availability of safe and legal cannabis actually reduced opiate deaths:
“Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis sales and use resulted in a 0.7 deaths per month…reduction in opioid-related deaths. This reduction represents a reversal of the upward trend in opioid-related deaths in Colorado.”
The researchers concluded, “Legalization of cannabis in Colorado was associated with short-term reductions in opioid-related deaths.”
There was a significant statistical decrease in opiate deaths in the two years immediately following the state’s decision to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the year 2012.
“After Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis sale and use, opioid-related deaths decreased more than 6% in the following 2 years.”
The study’s authors admit their research is made weaker by the fact that recreational cannabis is not legal nationwide. If it was, their methods and conclusions could be compared with research from other states where cannabis is legal.
They also admit that while cannabis has been legalized for recreational use in eight states and the District of Columbia, consuming cannabis does come with some risks as well, which must be studied. But the contribution to the discussion of whether or not cannabis should be legalized in all 50 states has been made and the researchers are confident in their methods of data collection as well as the results and conclusions they’ve drawn.
Although we found an apparent public health benefit in a reduction in opioid-related deaths following recreational cannabis legalization in Colorado, we note that expanded legalized cannabis use is also associated with significant potential harms.
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In other words, there are side effects with any drug consumed, both natural and chemical. However, as The Free Thought Project has reported on numerous occasions, cannabis is statistically, exponentially safer than any available opiate on the market. There was a 21 percent increase in drug-related deaths in 2016. Out of the nearly 65,000 Americans who died—more than the number of casualties from the Vietnam War—75 percent were opioid-related deaths and 0 percent were cannabis-related deaths.
Last week, we brought you the story CBS’ 60 Minutes aired that revealed high-ranking DEA officials blew the whistle on the pain-killer pipeline of manufacturers and distributors, who illegally and unscrupulously distributed the dangerous and deadly prescription drugs to millions of Americans without repercussions. Instead of complying with the law, the drug companies simply recruited the DEA’s top lawyers to help craft legislation that would effectively tie the hands of the DEA’s enforcement division known as the “Diversion” unit.
When that happened, the DEA no longer had the power to financially fine the distributors for sending truckloads of opiates to counties with very few inhabitants. In other words, the distributors were supplying street-level dealers via a “legal” pipeline.
This week, President Trump announced that he would be declaring the opiate death dilemma a “national emergency.” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was tapped by Trump earlier this year to explore ways to curb opioid abuse and overdoses. His committee’s first recommendation was to declare the phenomena a “national emergency,” but Trump’s cabinet and opiate commission have made troubling statements indicating that not only do they believe there is a pharmaceutical and monetary answer to the problem of opiate deaths, but there is a need for law enforcement to carry on its failed “War on Drugs.”
Christie’s commission concluded government healthcare programs should pay for opiate treatment (such as methadone clinics) and make Naloxone (Narcan) available to families across the country. Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions believes police can manage the crisis. His head-in-the-sand type statements lead many to believe he is just going to carry on with business as usual. He’s recently made the following statements:
“Robust enforcement of our laws helps keep drugs out of our country, decreases their availability, drives up their price, and reduces their purity,” Sessions said.
President Trump later echoed Sessions’ sentiments earlier this years. “Strong law enforcement is absolutely vital to having a drug-free society,” he said. “I’m confident that by working with our health care and law enforcement experts we will fight this deadly epidemic and the United States will win.”
However, those baseless statements are a reminder that nothing the federal government is planning to do to end the opioid crisis will actually work. While Sessions and Trump may not be ready to acknowledge it, the times are changing. Even Dr. Oz admitted, “medical marijuana might offer an option to help prevent you from ever getting opioids in the first place, and maybe help in getting you off of them.”
As TFTP reported in August, a first of its kind study was published that shows undeniable evidence of the ability of cannabis to treat opioid addiction by actively working to block the opioid reward in the brain.
If cannabis can reduce opioid-related deaths in Colorado by nearly 7 percent, at a time when the state’s population was rapidly increasing, then other states should start paying attention to the indications from research and should consider legalizing cannabis as an option to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic.