Americans under 50 are now more likely to die of a pill than a car crash, a heart attack or a shooting. Last year, approximately 59,000 to 65,000 people died due to drug overdose, which now surpasses the historic highs of annual deaths due to firearms (app. 40,000 in 1993), car accidents (app. 55,000 in 1972) and even HIV/AIDS (app. 45,000 in 1995). The 2016 toll is an alarming jump from the 2015 stats, when 52,404 Americans died of drug overdose.
These deaths were mainly due to opioids ranging from prescription painkillers (e.g. oxycodone and fentanyl) to street drugs like heroin. Researchers don't yet know exactly how many deaths were due to opioids last year. But based on 2015 stats -- in which 63 percent of overdoses were due to opioids - we can project that at least 37,170 to 40,950 of drug-related deaths in 2016 were due to opioids.
And the number of fatal overdoses - which has increased nonstop over the last 15 years - will likely continue to climb until the medical community finds an alternative to the prescription painkillers that often lead to addiction. Medical marijuana could be one of those alternative treatments, but it probably won't be considered as a solution so long as pot prohibitionists reign in the Trump administration.
Recent studies suggest that cannabis could actually help Americans avoid as well as 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 more effective and safer painkiller than prescription painkillers like oxycodone and fentanyl.
That's because unlike oxycodone and fentanyl, marijuana has never caused a fatal overdose.
Unfortunately, those findings are falling on deaf ears because the Trump administration is dependent on unscientific anti-cannabis rhetoric.
Researchers suggest that medical marijuana could wean people off opioid addiction. But lawmakers like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie still insist that using marijuana leads to abusing hard drugs like opioids - even though there is no scientific evidence to back up that argument. And that's a huge problem because Christie has been tapped by President Trump to chair a panel charged with combating the opioid epidemic. Which is like hiring a firefighter who thinks the leading cause of fire is water.
And Christie isn't an outlier in the Trump administration. His way of thinking is backed by the American government's stance on marijuana. Right now, the feds define marijuana as a substance that is equally harmful and addictive as heroin. And that probably won't change anytime soon given who's calling the shots on pot in Washington.
The worst offender by far is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who scoffs at the medicinal benefits of marijuana because he thinks cannabis is a "life-wrecking substance" that 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!”
And those have influenced cannabis policy across the country -- even in states where medical marijuana is legal. Earlier this month, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (R) deferred to Sessions while explaining his decision to veto a bill that would have added opioid addiction to the state's list of approved conditions for medical marijuana. Governor Sandoval said it would be "unwise" and "imprudent" to expand the program since Attorney General Sessions wants to crack down on medical marijuana.
Maine, New Hampshire and New Mexico have also recently rejected proposals to add opioid addiction to the list of approved conditions for medical marijuana.
So marijuana has never led to a lethal overdose, but the body count for cannabis stigmas is climbing.