New information from the Department of Health Services (DHS), which is the governmental agency responsible for being the administrator of Arizona's medical marijuana program, about their worries associated with the opioid epidemic in Arizona. Currently there is an average of 2 deaths in Arizona per day because of opioid misuse either in the legal or illegal marketplace. Dr. Cara Christ who is the DHS director recently was quoted as saying that there is a dramatic rise in deaths from 454 in 2012 to 790 in 201 and that some of this is because of illegal drug use. This is seen in a tripling in the number of heroin overdoses in Arizona. Dr. Christ continued by saying that there are more actual deaths from prescription opioids than from illegal opioid use. Probably the biggest reason for this rise in overdose from medically prescribed opioids is that people easily get hooked on them when they are trying to overcome their issues with chronic pain.
Governor Ducey has also noticed the opioid epidemic and he has declared a statewide health emergency due to opioid abuse. As a part of his state of emergency, Ducey is putting "enhanced surveillance" in place to watch this crisis, tightening doctor’s abilities to prescribe opioids, and training law enforcement to administer Naloxone which is used to reverse the effects of overdose from narcotics including opioids.
Now it seems that Dr. Christ and Governor Ducey fully understand that opioid abuse is a huge problem in Arizona. Also, it is apparent that patients with chronic pain are the ones who make up the largest portion of medically prescribed opioid users that have become addicted to these drugs due to overuse. With chronic pain being a qualifying condition for a patient to be prescribed medical marijuana, it would seem easy to most that medical marijuana is a great option to wean people off of their highly addictive opioids.
Dr. Christ has stated that the current opioid crisis in Arizona is both because of doctors over-prescribing these drugs and government itself having to take a portion of the blame because the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services attach hospital reimbursement and performance scores to patient satisfaction surveys that ask how a patient’s pain was treated.Dr. Christ understands that if prescriptions for opioids are reduced, people’s chroic pain will not just go away on its own and if patients cannot access painkillers, they will mostly turn to heroin. We know this because studies have shown that 4 out of 5 current heroin users started as prescription painkiller users. Dr, Christ then said that change starts with the doctors prescribing other methods for pain suppression. One thing that Dr, Christ has not mentioned is that out of the many pain relievers, medical marijuana is possibly the most effective alternative to opioids and their addictive qualities. Instead, Dr. Christ said she cannot say how much marijuana will help some people and that “[e]ach individual is going to be different”. She continued that “[i]f patients are interested, that’s something they should talk with their healthcare provider about.” In contrast to Dr. Christ’s lackluster approach to using medical marijuana as an alternative to dangerous opioids, the facts back the use of marijuana. Multiple studies, including one from Johns Hopkins University, have found that people in states with legalized medical marijuana programs, including Arizona, have a 25 percent lower likelihood of becoming dependant on prescription painkillers to begin with than in states with no legal form of marijuana. Moreso, the evidence suggests that marijuana not only provides a less-addictive alternative to prescription painkillers, it can be used as an "exit drug" so that people who are dependent on opioids can end their dependency.
It is clear in the medical marijuana community that recommending the use of medical marijuana to these patients is the best and healthiest possible way to get these patients off of their highly-addictive opioid medications and this feeling is supported by the evidence. The main issue now seems to be convincing the people in decision-making power that opioids are killing Arizona and that marijuana can revive our state and its people.
Source: Johns Hopkins University study.