An Opioid Epidemic in the United States
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published an analysis that showed drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States – surpassing even that of automobile accidents (“Opioid Addiction”). A majority of these deaths are related to prescription opiates and heroin use. Opiates are drugs commonly prescribed as pain relievers, including oxycodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl. The class of drugs also includes the illicit drug, heroin (“Opioid Addiction”). Prescription opioids are currently involved in “more overdose deaths than any other drug” with 20,101 related deaths in 2015 – four times the number in 1999 (“Overdose Death Rates”). Heroin overdoses have also risen fourfold in the past 16 years, with 12,990 deaths in 2015 (“Opioid Addiction”). Many are calling this dramatic increase in opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States an “Opioid Epidemic.”
This epidemic has three main indicators: increases in sales and prescriptions of opiates, high rates of opioid-related mortality, and a surge in admissions to treatment centers for opiate addictions. Driving this epidemic is the surge in the prescription of opiates, which nearly tripled from 76 million prescriptions filled 1991 to 259 million prescriptions filled in 2011 – corresponding to the dramatic increase in opioid-related overdose deaths (Nolan). Many of these painkillers are even being prescribed for conditions they have been proven ineffective for, including chronic pain.
This increase in sales and use for prescription opiates is problematic because opioids are associated with a high risk of overdose death a...
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...xycodone or morphine in stable doses (Abrams et al.). After five days of administering the vapor, the researchers evaluated the patients’ pain level and found an average pain reduction of 27.2% when cannabis was added to the opiate. This significant reduction in pain suggests marijuana enhances the pain-relieving effect of opioids.
Since fewer opiates are needed to achieve the same effect, mixing opioids with marijuana could potentially allow for lower opioid doses and an accompanying decrease in opioid-related side effects such as nausea and sedation (Abrams et al.). This suggests another treatment for chronic pain – a combination of both cannabis and opioids to minimize the amount of exposure to each drug. Not only would this lower the risk of opiate dependence, but also minimize the risk of long-term harms associated with marijuana use that may still be unknown.
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