New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is calling on President Donald Trump to declare America's opioid epidemic a national public health emergency. His call-to-action was part of the report that Governor Christie - as chair of the presidential Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis - sent to the White House recently.
President Trump formed that commission to help the federal government develop a plan to combat the skyrocketing rate of fatal opioid overdoses in the United States. In 2015 alone, opioids like heroin, fentanyl and morphine killed over 33,000 Americans. That's more than ten times the number of lives lost in the 9/11 Terror Attacks - a comparison that Governor Christie raised while urging Trump to declare a state of emergency.
"We hope that the President declares a public health emergency in this country," Christie said on behalf of the commission yesterday. "We have a 9/11-scale loss every three weeks," he added, noting that four out of five new heroin addicts in the US started on prescription opioids.
Recognizing the origin of the epidemic is a major about-face for Christie, who has often blamed heroin addiction on marijuana by calling cannabis a 'gateway drug' that supposedly leads consumers to abuse harder substances. The debunked gateway drug theory is a bitter irony of the drug war for people who suffer from addiction or have lost loved ones to the epidemic since cannabis might actually be a solution to the crisis.
Marijuana Could Combat the Opioid Epidemic
Recent studies suggest that cannabis could actually help Americans avoid and even overcome addiction. States that permit medical marijuana have a 24.8 percent lower annual opioid-overdose mortality rates than states that still prohibit medicinal cannabis use, according to a 2014 study published by JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association). And there are four other recent studies backing up those findings.
Cannabis could also help addicts kick their deadly habit. A study published last year in the Clinical Psychology Review suggested that people addicted to opioids are using cannabis to wean themselves off of their drug dependence. Meanwhile, numerous retired NFL players have come forward to say that cannabis is a much safer and more effective painkiller than prescription painkillers like oxycodone and fentanyl.
Unfortunately, those findings are falling on deaf ears because the Trump administration is hooked on unscientific anti-cannabis rhetoric.
Science says that marijuana could cure the opioid epidemic, but the Trump administration can't recommend it as a solution while cannabis remains federally prohibited. And that's unlikely to change given that members of the administration like Attorney General Jeff Sessions insist that marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin.
“I’ve heard people say we could solve our heroin problem with marijuana,” Sessions said last March. “How stupid is that? Give me a break!” He added that studies supporting medical marijuana are nothing but scientific grandstanding. “Medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much,” he said.
So it's hard to imagine that Trump's team will do anything but exacerbate the opioid epidemic while prohibitionists like Sessions not only dismiss a potential solution but scapegoat it as the problem - even though nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose. But the body count for 'Reefer Madness' rhetoric is climbing.
Then again, if Christie is willing to admit that prescription pills, not cannabis, are to blame for the opioid epidemic, then there might be hope that the administration could turn a new leaf on marijuana.