On Saturday, the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, based out of Jackson, MS, released a detailed report outlining an uptick in deaths associated with drug overdoses. The number of deaths involving overdoses has more than doubled since 2000. Among overdoses, the most common victims are white men between the ages of 25-54. Among this demographic, deaths involving opioids has increased by 265% in the same period of time. Not to be outdone, opioid deaths among women have increased by 400%, according to the CDC.
According to the Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi is among several states that has more opioid prescriptions than citizens, in fact every citizen of Mississippi could take a prescription pill a day, for over sixty days, without bleeding the state dry.
Opioid abuse is only the beginning. Prescription painkillers are expensive, and the cost to obtain some Oxycontin is so high, it prices many addicts out of the painkiller market; leaving them to turn to the much cheaper, much stronger world of heroin. Mississippi saw a record-high 211 deaths asso
ciated with opioids in 2016, the state has also seen a steady increase in heroin related deaths, and deaths associated with “drug poisoning.” The majority of this country’s heroin is imported by Mexican Cartels, who have been lacing their heroin with fentanyl; which is cheaper than heroin, and 100 times stronger than morphine.
This all leads to the letter sent by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to congressional leaders on June 13th. In this letter, Sessions expresses his displeasure with the “Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment “ which limits the Justice Department’s ability to crack down on medical marijuana. Sessions cites the growing drug epidemic in this country. In his letter, he doubts the effectiveness of medical marijuana, and says we need to do something about heroin in this country. So instead of taking power away from pharmaceutical companies, he wants to go after medical marijuana, an issue that a recent Quinnipiac survey (ironically released on 4/20/17) found 94% support for among voting age Americans. In his letter to congressional leaders, the physical embodiment of the war on drugs states that there is no medical use for marijuana, which is in direct contrast to two studies conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The NIDA reported that:
Some preliminary studies have suggested that medical marijuana legalization might be associated with decreased prescription opioid use and overdose deaths, but researchers don’t have enough evidence yet to confirm this finding. For example, one NIDA-funded study suggested a link between medical marijuana legalization and fewer overdose deaths from prescription opioids.1 But this study didn’t show that medical marijuana legalization caused the decrease in deaths or that pain patients changed their drug-taking behavior.2,3 A more detailed NIDA-funded analysis showed that legally protected medical marijuana dispensaries, not just medical marijuana laws, were also associated with a decrease in the following:4
- opioid prescribing
- self-reports of opioid misuse
- treatment admissions for opioid addiction
Additionally, data suggests that medical marijuana treatment may reduce the opioid dose prescribed for pain patients,5,6 and a recent study showed that availability of medical marijuana for Medicare patients reduced prescribing of medications, including opioids, for their pain.7 NIDA is funding additional studies to determine the link between medical marijuana use and the use or misuse of opioids for pain
It seems that if Jeff Sessions really wanted to take the nation’s drug epidemic seriously, than he would let states be laboratories of democracy. Instead, because of his proclamation, states with a real problem, like Mississippi, are hesitant to explore other options to curb addiction.