You may have heard the statistics about opioid addiction in the United States. If not, these numbers may surprise you:
- Roughly 2 million Americans 12 and older have a prescription pain reliever substance abuse problem (2015 statistics)
- Opioid prescriptions have risen by 300 percent
- Four out of five heroine users start out by using prescription painkillers
- Forty-four Americans die every day from prescription painkiller overdose
This last statistic in and of itself elevates the problem of opioid overdose in this country to crisis status. But what is not talked about enough is what happens to those who are left behind. Tragically, the children of prescription pain medication addicts who have O.D.ed are often the ones who suffer the most. And in some states such as Kentucky and Washington, the situation of children left behind by the overdose-related death of one or both of their parents has become so common that there is even a label for it: opiate orphans.
While the government appears to be paying “lip service” to this national tragedy, research is building regarding how cannabis can be a safe way to free addicts from the grip of highly-addictive opioids by providing a natural way to alleviate pain.
The Opioid Crisis Effects Kids the Most
The word “opioid” denotes the entire family of opiate-like substances, including natural ones that are derived directly from the opium poppy as well as synthetic ones. All opiates are highly addictive and also dangerous. The reason why so many deaths occur each year is that one of the side effects of opioid use is a condition called “respiration depression.” This condition effects breathing by creating changes in the opioid receptors in the central nervous system that relate to respiration. With prolonged opioid use, breathing becomes so difficult that many long-time opioid users are forced to use an oxygen tank.
And an increasing number of prescription opioid users are obtaining multiple prescriptions from multiple doctors, which can cause acute respiratory failure and death. In fact, this is the leading cause of death for thousands each year. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation database states that there were a little over 4 billion pharmaceutical drug prescriptions filled in the U.S. in 2016, many of which are multiple prescriptions from different doctors for pain-relieving opioids. That equates to 13 prescriptions for every single American!
There are more deaths from narcotic overdose than there are from gun-related homicides, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control– that equated to 33,000 deaths in 2015 and countless children left motherless, fatherless or both. In West Virginia, there were 5,182 children who wound up in foster care in 2016, a 24 percent increase from 2012. That state’s Department of Health and Human Resources states that “substance abuse” was a factor in 80% of the 2016 number.
Other states face similar problems. Ohio, for example, experienced a 19% increase in foster care placements in 2016 compared to 2010. Kentucky currently has the highest rate of opioid overdose-related “kinship care” placements, where children go to live with a relative because of a parent’s death. In that state, 7 percent of children (about 70,000 kids) are not living with either biological parent.
“Honestly, if something doesn’t happen with this addiction crisis, we can lose a generation of kids,” said the executive director of Children Services in Lucas County, Ohio, in a recent Wall Street Journal article.
Cannabis as the Solution: Some States Take Notice
The sad reality of the “opioid orphans” can only be turned around by addicted parents who are brave enough to take steps to cut their addiction before it is too late—and that starts with education about the fact that pharmaceuticals are not the only route for easing pain. Cannabis has been proven to be one of the best, if not the best, natural substances for this. It has also helped thousands of people gently cut their life-threatening tie to opioid drugs.
The connection is backed up by dozens of articles. One was done by McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who conducted a 2010 trial which found that cannabis “reduced the intensity of pain, improved sleep and was well tolerated” in those with pain associated with neuropathy. Neuropathic pain is that which stems from miscommunication within pain centers of damaged nerve tissue.
A 2016 study by the University of Colorado focused on migraine sufferers. They followed 121 patients who used cannabis for their symptoms. The results were impressive. In close to 40% of those who participated, their migraine headaches and other related symptoms decreased dramatically while using cannabis.
And in a recent survey of over 1,300 people who suffer from the debilitating pain associated with fibromyalgia, the majority reported a significant reduction with cannabis use. This caused the National Pain Foundation to suggest that cannabis may be a possible solution for the discomfort associated for this mysterious condition. Other research suggests that cannabis can help with fibromyalgia by stabilizing what is known as the H-P-A axis in the brain. This triangle-shaped relationship between the hypothalamus, adrenals and pituitary gland is a major part of the endocrine system and is responsible for regulating functions in the digestion tract, immune system and metabolism. It also plays a major part in regulating mood.
And did you know that in the mid-19th century, drugs using extracts from cannabis were produced by several pharmaceutical laboratories around the world, including in the U.S.? And more recently, in the 1990s, specific receptors for cannabis were found in the human body.
Bastyr University Research Institute recently conducted a survey of approximately 3,000 individuals. Roughly half of those surveyed commented that cannabis had directly helped them quit their opioid addictions and that cannabis was a successful replacement for both pain pills and anti-depressant opioids. Despite the fact that it still remains a Schedule 1 drug on the federal level, some state lawmakers concerned with the growing opioid crisis in their regions are taking notice of the effectiveness of cannabis specifically for breaking the cycle of addiction. In March of this year, the New Mexico State Senate signed off on a law that focuses on using cannabis specifically for helping patients break their addiction.
“Medical cannabis has great potential as an opioid replacement drug and we want to move people away from being prescribed highly addictive opiates,” said House Minority Leader Representative Nate Gentry.
While unfortunately New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez vetoed House Bill 527 in April (2017), she was in the minority in this state that contains a large number of citizens and political leaders who are adamant about expanding the reach of this state’s medical cannabis programs. Like leaders in many states, their efforts will continue to focus on cannabis’ use as a replacement for opioids, based on sound evidence. As the leading cause of “accidental death” in the U.S. and the cause of the destruction of thousands of families, they know that a safe and effective alternative simply must be found.