Jeff Sessions, the current Attorney General of the United States, has made some pretty eyebrow-raising claims regarding the opioid crisis. For example, he has stated that over-the-counter medications like aspirin should be enough to treat chronic pain. Additionally, he’s insisted that those struggling with chronic pain can put an end to the opioid crisis by themselves if they just “tough it out”. These statements seem to be a misunderstanding about the causes of prescription drug use and abuse. Still, Sessions’ claims have not gone over well with addiction treatment professionals or with victims of opioid addiction. His ideas about slowing the opioid crisis go against what most major research has deemed practical.
So far, many people have united in the fight against the opioid crisis. Doctors and healthcare professionals are becoming more conscious about handing out opioid prescriptions to treat chronic pain. In fact, the number of opioid painkillers prescribed has dropped by about 7% in the last year. Sessions, who recently spoke at a Heritage Foundation event held in honor of Ronald Reagan on his birthday, said his plan for 2018 is “to see a further decline [in opioid prescriptions]…we think doctors are just prescribing too many.”
We agree, and there is truth to this. Still, Sessions’ proposed solution is baffling: treating chronic pain with more ‘Bufferins’ and less medicinal marijuana. He stated “people need to take some aspirin sometimes and tough it out a little… sometimes, you just need to take two Bufferins or something and go to bed.”
Sessions went on to claim that marijuana, even when used medically, can be a gateway toward opioid addiction.
What Years of Research Say About Prescription Opioid Abuse
Sessions has been insisting that marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’ since his time in the Senate. He’s been claiming that marijuana use can lead to opioid abuse or even heroin use. However, the scientific research into the opioid crisis does not support this idea. In fact, most research shows that opioid prescription misuse is tied to rising heroin use rates. Sessions does not seem to agree with this research, and has said:
“The DEA said that a huge percentage of the heroin addiction starts with prescriptions. That may be an exaggerated number; they had it as high as 80 percent. We think a lot of this is starting with marijuana and other drugs, too.”
The Gateway Drug Myth
Sessions is a firm believer in the gateway drug theory. He has even gone so far as to say that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
While it is true that most illicit drug users often first use marijuana, there’s no sufficient evidence to suggest that Sessions is right.
In fact, it’s much more likely that people use marijuana because it’s much more accessible than other illegal drugs. A 2002 report by RAND Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center states that this alternate explanation for marijuana use is just as plausible as the gateway drug theory. The report says:
“The new DPRC research thus demonstrates that the phenomena supporting claims that marijuana is a gateway drug also support the alternative explanation: that it is not marijuana use but individuals’ opportunities and unique propensities to use drugs that determine their risk of initiating hard drugs. The research does not disprove the gateway theory; it merely shows that another explanation is plausible.”
New Research from RAND Corporation
Additionally, more recent evidence indicates that the legalization of medical marijuana can actually lower the rates of opioid misuse and overdose. In fact, another RAND study revealed that states that have legalized marijuana experience 20% fewer opioid overdose deaths than states that have not. In other words, there is a clear connection between medicinal marijuana availability and low opioid overdose death rates. This evidence contradicts everything that Sessions has suggested about marijuana use. This data is also supported by our recent research into state by state drug trends.
Could Medicinal Marijuana Be a Potential Solution to the Opioid Crisis?
Historically there have been strict regulations on testing the efficacy of marijuana due to its legal status. Still, there are more than 10,000 studies that have been evaluated by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to determine the benefits and potential harms of marijuana use. This extensive review concluded that there is evidence to support marijuana as a treatment for:
- chronic pain
- multiple sclerosis symptoms
- chemotherapy-induced nausea
While the review also revealed evidence linking marijuana to issues like to respiratory problems, it didn’t find any sufficient evidence that it causes potentially fatal health complications, like overdoses. Overall, the review has found that medicinal marijuana is useful for managing chronic pain and has nonfatal risks.
Also, an increasing body of research outside of this review shows that marijuana legalization massively reduces the number of opioid overdose deaths. So, it’s entirely possible that medicinal marijuana could replace opioids as a painkiller and effectively slow the opioid crisis.
Opioid Addiction Treatment at TTC Care
Attorney General Sessions may have some misconceptions about how to handle the opioid crisis, but the connection between medicinal marijuana legalization and reduced opioid overdose rates are important to acknowledge.
While TTCCare does not advocate marijuana use, it is important to recognize the true causes of the opioid epidemic so that we can effectively treat it. Targeting marijuana as the root cause of this crisis does not help those who are struggling with opioid use or prescription drug abuse.
In the meantime, there are treatment options available for people who are struggling with opioid addiction. At TTC Residential Addiction Care, our team of qualified addiction treatment professionals provides personalized around-the-clock care to fulfill each individual patient’s recovery needs. If you or someone you know is struggling with an opioid addiction as a result of prescription misuse, please call TTC Care at (844) 310-9546.