New Mexico Has The Highest Drug Overdose Death Rate In The Nation For Majority Of The Last Two Decades
The number of overdose deaths involving opiates and heroin has almost doubled around the country since the year 2000. In 2014, 547 New Mexicans died of a drug overdose. Drug overdoses killed more New Mexicans than firearms, motor vehicle crashes, and falls combined. This statistics have New Mexico policy makers asking for marijuana to fight the opioid epidemic.
Pain specialists, people recovering from addiction, community members, and drug policy reformers came together to call for the allowance of medical cannabis to treat addiction.
“I am trying to save my hometown and my state with something that works,” said Anita Briscoe, M.S., A.P.R.N.-B.C, “As a medical practitioner I’ve seen evidence over the years of medical cannabis working to help people stop or reduce opioid use. We have to make this option accessible to prevent needless deaths and patient suffering. Our communities are broken and in desperate need responsible solutions.”
In the midst of the opioid crisis, lawmakers have been trying to find an alternative solution that treats drug use as a public health issue. The laws and policies in New Mexico remain on criminalization of drug offenses, and deaths from opioid related drug overdoses have not fallen. Research has shown that medical marijuana is not only an effective pain treatment, and it can lower the amount of opioids people take.
Legal Medical Marijuana and Opioids
Statistics have shown that States with medical marijuana as an option have a significant reduction in mortality from opioid abuse. There was a 25 percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths, resulting in 1,700 fewer deaths in 2010 alone. Similarly, another recent report by Castlight Health, found almost double the occurrence of opioid abuse in states that did have legal medical marijuana. Specifically, in those states, 5.4 percent of individuals with an opioid prescription qualified as abusers of the drug, whereas only half or 2.8 percent of individuals with an opioid prescription living in medical marijuana states qualified as opioid abusers. Used in combination with opioid pain medications, marijuana can lower opioid side-effects, cravings and withdrawal severity as well as enhance the pain relieving effects of opioids, thereby allowing for lower doses and less risk of overdose.
“The bottom line is making medical cannabis accessible to New Mexicans who are dependent on opioids for pain management or who are struggling with opioid or heroin use will save lives,” says policy coordinator Jessica Gelay.
Opioids and Medical Marijuana
“Cannabis and cannabis-derived products have been found to be safe and effective for treating certain types of chronic pain conditions, with over 9,000 patient/years of data from modern clinical studies in existence (Russo & Hohmann, 2012). A lethal toxic overdose of cannabis has never been documented because, unlike opioids, cannabis derived compounds, such as THC, do not depress respiration due to sparse receptor density in medullary centers ofthehumanbrain(Glass,Dragunow,&Faull, 1997; Herkenham et al., 1990). Furthermore, lifetime use is not significantly associated with increased morbidity, brain damage, or cerebral atrophy (Karst et al., 2003, Weiland et al., 2015, Russo et al. 2002).
Researchers have found that THC works in concert with opioid-based painkillers, to increase their combined effectiveness, particularly in cases of neuropathic pain. In addition to enhancing the pain relieving effects of opioids, THC also serves to lower the dose of an opioid necessary for relief thus minimizing the inherent risks of opioid use (Abrams, et al., 2011; Abrams et al., 2007, Desroches & Beaulieu, 2010; Lucas 2012; Wallace et al., 2007; Welch & Eads, 1999). Research in animals has also demonstrated that the addition of cannabinoids to opioids enhances analgesic efficacy, helps diminish the likelihood of the development of opioid tolerance, and can prevent opioid withdrawal symptoms (Morel et al., 2009).
Data gathered from states that have medical cannabis programs has shown a 24.8% reduction in deaths attributed to opioid- related overdose compared to states without programs (Bachhuber, Saloner, Cunningham, & Barry, 2014). Examination of the association between state medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in each year after implementation of the program showed that such laws were associated with a lower rate of overdose mortality that generally strengthened over time.” Safe Access Now
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Sources: Drug policy Alliance