Death by overdose from prescription and illicit opioids has doubled in the past years, from 21,089 in 2010 to 42,249 in 2016. High doses are increasingly prescribed to patients with chronic pain, putting them at an elevated risk for accidental overdose and negative drug-alcohol or drug-drug interactions. It is no surprise that America has an opioid problem, but this heightened risk of negative interactions with the drug has caused the Surgeon General to release a statement advising people using the drug to have an opioid overdose antidote on hand and be prepared to use it. The statement is as follows:
“I, Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service, VADM [Vice Admiral] Jerome Adams, am emphasizing the importance of the overdose-reversing drug Naloxone. For patients currently taking high doses of opioids as prescribed for pain, individuals misusing prescription opioids, individuals using illicit opioids such as heroin or fentanyl, health care practitioners, family and friends of people who have an opioid use disorder, and community members who come into contact with people at risk for opioid overdose, knowing how to use naloxone and keeping it within reach can save a life.”
While this antidote has the ability to save a person’s life, it is only a band-aid solution. Naloxone only decreases the effects of opioid overdose, particularly the inability to breathe, until the patient can receive medical attention. It does nothing to address the addictive and dangerous qualities of opioid medications. Long-term solutions must find both a safe replacement drug and a way to help those who have already found themselves addicted to the substance. A cure-all may sound far-fetched, but, as it turns out, there may be a solution already growing in your neighbor’s backyard.
That’s right, I’m talking about cannabis, otherwise known as weed, pot, bud, marijuana, and quite a few more creative names. The pain-relieving qualities of cannabis have been used as an alternative medication for centuries. The cannabinoids CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) both have pain relieving properties, though CBD is non-psychoactive and therefore allows you to continue your daily functions as though you had only taken ibuprofen. The documented deaths by cannabis overdose today is… zero, as reported by the DEA. The side effects are far less dangerous than those of opioids, but the pain relief has been said to be just as effective. The plant also has far less addictive qualities, as physical symptoms of withdrawal are few and rare, though it is entirely possible for a person susceptible to addiction to become psychologically dependent on the drug. That being said, the risk of dependency is further decreased when using CBD alone, rather than in conjunction with psychoactive cannabinoids.
In addition, the plant has been used alongside rehabilitation programs to help free people from addiction to harder drugs, such as crack cocaine, heroin, and opioids. Opioid use has already decreased in states that have legalized medical and recreational marijuana use. One study found a 14 percent reduction in opioid prescription in “legal” states, as well as 1.8 million fewer pills dispensed per day. The researchers estimated that the existing states that have legalized the sale and use of cannabis reduced the number of opioid prescription by 3.7 million doses per day.
It can be difficult to understand why the drug is not federally legalized because it is capable of so much good with so few risks, at least for medical use. The answer is as old and American as apple pie: racism. Whittier’s own pride and joy, Richard Nixon, took it upon himself to target Black and Latinx communities by painting them as dangerous “druggies” and then criminalizing drug use. There is no reason to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin, LSD, and ecstacy. But, as John Ehrlichman, counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under President Richard Nixon, said in an interview published by Harper’s Magazine, “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” Though the war on drugs has since failed, the belief that marijuana was a dangerous, vile substance that only “ghetto” people used has stuck around like gum on a shoe.
Under the so-called war, Black people made up 35 percent of drug related arrests, 55 percent of convictions, and 74 percent of people sent to prison for drug possession crimes, despite only 13 percent of drug users being African American. That would explain why, even though the “war” failed to solve the drug epidemic in America and cost taxpayers about $41.3 billion (minor compared to the current $597 billion given to the military budget, partially to fight actual wars), Donald Trump has expressed interest in re-igniting this war. In this political climate, Naloxone may be more accessible to people than pot. People are dying every day when a possible solution may be legal just a state away. The lost war was never about the drugs or saving lives. It is time to start our own war: the war on racism.