Published February 26, 2017
As is often pointed out, 49 other states have adopted laws that allow the government access to prescription records.
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Missouri ranks 22nd among the 50 states in opioid overdose death and its per capita death rate is close to the average for all 50 states. If allowing the government access to our prescriptions helped reduce this problem, those other 49 states would have less of a problem than Missouri. The fact they do not is strong evidence that allowing government access to our prescription records does not reduce this problem.
If the government wants us to sacrifice yet another piece of our precious and rapidly shrinking right to privacy, it ought to bear the burden of producing some evidence that this sacrifice would have a positive impact on the problem. There is simply no evidence that it will.
If this proposal were really about reducing opioid overdose deaths, it would be limited to opioid drugs. However, the proposal is far broader. The proposal would include all of the hundreds of “controlled substances” contained in Schedules 2, 3 and 4 of the list of prescription drugs. Schedule 5 drugs are over-the-counter, nonprescription drugs. Schedule 1 drugs are not available by prescription.
Ironically, Schedule 1 drugs include marijuana. If politicians and public health officials truly want to take steps that are proven to have a positive impact on opioid overdose death, they should be working to increase legal access to marijuana as medicine.
As the Journal of the American Medical Association has confirmed, access to legal medical marijuana has a dramatic impact in the reduction of opioid overdose deaths. A study published in the August 2014 JAMA Internal Medicine shows far fewer people die from opioid overdose in states with legal access to medical marijuana. A 2015 RAND Corp. study also showed less opioid-related abuse and mortality where medical marijuana is legal.
According to JAMA, the reduction in the opioid overdose death rate averages 25 percent and ranges from 20 percent to 33 percent. The reduction correlates with the number of years legal access to medical marijuana has been available. States that have had legal access to medical marijuana the longest have the most dramatic reductions. This strongly suggests a causal relationship and not merely a correlation. It also indicates legalizing medical marijuana might continue to reduce opioid overdose deaths even beyond 33 percent.
A University of Georgia study shows a dramatic reduction in the prescribing of opioid drugs in states where legal access to medical marijuana exists. This study concluded that the Medicare program saved more than $165 million in just one year because of legal access to medical marijuana in several states.
Most people do not want to take opioid narcotic painkillers. The narcotics cause several unpleasant side effects, in addition to the potential for addiction and death. The need for potentially addictive and deadly narcotic painkillers is dramatically reduced where people have legal access to marijuana as medicine. Pain reduction is one of the most well-documented, proven benefits of medical marijuana. The potential side effects of marijuana as medicine pale in comparison to the potential addiction and death associated with narcotic painkillers.
A study from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, published in June 2016 in The Journal of Pain, showed that 244 chronic pain patients rated marijuana as more effective in pain relief than opiates. “Among study participants, medical cannabis use was associated with a 64% decrease in opioid use, decreased number and side effects of medications, and an improved quality of life. This study suggests that many chronic pain patients are essentially substituting medical cannabis for opioids and other medications for chronic pain relief, and finding the benefit and side effect profile of cannabis to be greater than these other classes of medications.”
A study published in the December 2016 edition of The Clinical Journal of Pain and conducted at Hebrew University in Israel showed 66 percent of patients experienced improvement in their pain symptoms after cannabis therapy and that most reported “robust” improvements in their quality of life. Those patients’ overall consumption of opioid drugs declined 44 percent during the study, and a significant percentage of participants discontinued opioid therapy all together.
If the Columbia City Council and Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services want to take steps that have been proved to actually have an impact on the opioid overdose problem, they should focus on providing greater access to marijuana as medicine for our citizens. In 2004, nearly 70 percent of Columbia voters endorsed a measure that eliminates all penalties for the possession and use of up to 35 grams of marijuana when a doctor has recommended such use. However, that ordinance provides no legal access to marijuana for those patients.
In October 2014, the Columbia City Council fell one vote short of passing a measure that would have eliminated the penalties for the cultivation of up to a half-dozen plants by patients whose doctors recommend their use of marijuana as medicine. The council should revisit this issue and should pass this measure.
Of course, it would be preferable if such a law were passed statewide. There is an effort underway to place an initiative on the November 2018 Missouri ballot that would do what 28 other states have done: legalize access to medical marijuana for our citizens. The Columbia City Council should also pass a resolution endorsing the Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative proposed by New Approach Missouri.
It is ironic that, for decades, prohibitionists have argued that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” meaning it leads to the use of more dangerous drugs. The truth, supported by published peer-reviewed studies in the world’s most credible scientific and medical journals, shows precisely the opposite. Access to marijuana as medicine dramatically reduces the use of addictive and potentially deadly narcotics.
Attorney Dan Viets is secretary of the pro-medical marijuana group New Approach Missouri and state coordinator for NORML, an organization that advocates for reform of marijuana laws.