Medical marijuana could ease opioid crisis

Lack of dispensaries leads many in pain to use drugs

THE CAMPAIGN TO LEGALIZE MARIJUANA for recreational use in Massachusetts is dominating headlines and polls while drawing some strong opposition from important people. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Gov. Charlie Baker are all saying the ballot question should not be passed into law.

But regardless of where you stand on recreational marijuana, all this noise is obscuring the fact that the voters right now are being ignored on a crucial issue of public policy. Three years ago the people of Massachusetts voted by a two-thirds margin to give patients in chronic pain access to the proven benefits of medical marijuana. Frankly, that mandate hasn’t made much of a difference to thousands of patients with chronic pain, sleep disorders, AIDS and HIV, cancer, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis who continue to be denied the help the law says they should have. The situation is especially urgent in Boston, where no licensed facility is open for patients seeking medical marijuana – this in a city where 69 percent of voters pulled the lever in favor of legal medical marijuana.

The six facilities that have opened statewide over the last three years are not nearly enough to handle demand from patients in pain. That situation means that most of those who need medical marijuana remain right where they were before the voters spoke: Trying to find relief illegally, or going without.

And there is a dramatically worse option for these patients, an option that Walsh, Healey, and Baker certainly don’t want to see used, and that’s when people in pain turn to opioids for help.

Walsh, Healey, and Baker have shown great leadership over the course of the last year in fighting the terrible scourge of opioid addiction, an epidemic that has touched virtually every single family in our state. Study after study has shown that abuse of opiates and the ensuing addiction occurs far too often when doctors attempting to deal with patient pain from operations, cancer, or injuries are overprescribing drugs like oxycontin – and inadvertently addicting those who are seeking only pain relief.

In my own case, battling multiple sclerosis, there were points where I could have been prescribed opioids but instead, and in line with the recommendations of the National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, I worked with my health care provider to access medical marijuana. The result has been a dramatic decrease in symptoms without the potentially deadly risk of addiction.

Study after study has shown that access to medical marijuana as a way to ease pain without the use of opioids means lower rates of addiction and death.

If Walsh, Baker, and Healey continue to have any doubts about the use of marijuana to fight the epidemic of opioid addiction they need only look to recent steps taken by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to see a path to better care for those in pain.

Just last month, Warren asked the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to take a hard look at the use of medical marijuana as a way to ease our national crisis with addiction. And she has good reason, as a slew of extremely reputable recent studies bear out.

A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper last year showed that the presence of a medical marijuana dispensary meant a 15 to 35 percent drop in substance abuse admissions at area hospitals, and an equally large drop in opioid deaths by overdose. And a JAMA Internal Medicine study in 2014 found that states that allow medical marijuana have seen a 24.8 percent reduction in opioid deaths compared with states that had no medical marijuana laws.

Massachusetts has the medical marijuana law. What it lacks are enough licensed, secure, and regulated shops to handle the overwhelming need. That means that nearly 20,000 people seeking help with chronic pain are on waiting lists to find a place to get that help, help that for very many patients could mean an option to opiates.

Meet the Author

Geoffrey Reilinger

Founder, Compassionate Organics
It is time for cities and towns to stop dragging their feet on licenses for reputable, proven medical marijuana applicants. Simply put, it is inhumane. And in the face of an opioid epidemic is bad public policy.

Geoffrey Reilinger is the founder of Compassionate Organics, a medical marijuana facility seeking a license for a retail outlet in Allston.

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  • MassCentral 2016

    “Walsh, Healey, and Baker have shown great leadership over the course of
    the last year in fighting the terrible scourge of opioid addiction, an
    epidemic that has touched virtually every single family in our state”

    No they haven’t or they would embrace Marijuana for the reduction of alcohol and Big Pharm products,,, But then again, look who finances their campaigns.

    It’s not the lies that bother me. It’s the insult to my intelligence that I find offensive. #MassCentral

  • NoMediaRecognized0101

    Day by day the masses are seeing exactly how cruel and corrupted our own leaders are, by denying access to a plant that – HAS NEVER DIRECTLY CAUSED A DEATH! Why are patients suffering, and having to choose more dangerous drugs (opiates) you ask? Because the people who profit from those opiates don’t want to have competition.

    The Eighth Amendment (Amendment VIII) to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights (ratified December 15, 1791) prohibiting the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishment.

    What’s taking place here is CRUEL & UNUSUAL since we have evidence that points common sense towards allowing citizens the right to use a plant with a safety profile unmatched by other pharmaceuticals. Demand your right to access to the medication you can grow in your garden. It’s long past time for allowing freedom to use a herbal remedy as Americans. The government has NO place telling you what you can and can’t put in your body

  • AFreedomFighter88

    Addiction to legal pharmaceutical opioids (like Percocet, Fentanyl, Oxycodone, Percodan) is proven to be a direct GATEWAY to heroin use. Prescription drugs are directly responsible for over 237,000 deaths yearly in the US plus over 5,000 killed due to pharmaceutical intoxicated drivers. 46 PEOPLE DIE PER DAY from overdose of opium-based pharmaceuticals in the US. Every 9 minutes a child is admitted to a hospital emergency room for pharmaceutical drug poisoning.

    Booze consumption is a direct GATEWAY to alcoholism, street violence, domestic violence, traffic fatalities, teen pregnancies and death. Over 88,000 people die every year in our nation due to alcohol consumption plus 16,000 more in traffic fatalities directly caused by booze intoxicated drivers.

    Cannabis has never been proven by scientific study as a gateway drug and has never killed one single person in all medical history due to toxic overdose. No matter how much cannabis ones consumes even an entire bag of edibles it is never fatal. Cannabis has no significant statistical history of traffic problems let alone deaths. By comparison to booze and pills cannabis is very safe and far less toxic. Data posted below extracted from the Center for Disease Control website.

    So, which is safer???? Legalize, regulate and TAX!

  • massman

    Baker, Walsh, Healey, and the majority of Massachusetts politicians will be in for a major reality slap come this November. You can’t support marijuana prohibition while fighting the opiate crisis. Medical marijuana is major combatant to the opiate crisis. Everyone with wifi know marijuana is far safer than alcohol, tobacco, OTC, and prescription pharmaceuticals. Everyone but our clueless politicians. Vote out ignorance. Vote out prohibitionists. Vote for freedom. Legalize 2016.

  • massman

    Have any of our politicians looked at big Pharma to blame for the opiate crisis?