Last year was the deadliest year for drug overdoses in American history.
Between 59,000 to 65,000 people died due to overdoses in 2016, which now surpasses the historic high of the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s. Those deaths, which were mainly due to opioid addiction, make the need for alternative treatments like medical marijuana that much more imperative for the wellbeing of the United States. But that's unlikely to happen so long as staunch prohibitionists are calling the shots in the Trump administration.
Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. The number of Americans who died from abusing or misusing substances like heroin and fentanyl in 2016 is higher than the historic highs of annual deaths due to firearms (app. 40,000 in 1993), car accidents (app. 55,000 in 1972) and even HIV (app. 45,000 in 1995).
The estimated deaths in 2016 are an alarming jump from 2015, when the death toll hovered around 35,000. The final numbers won't be released until December of this year as the CDC wades through records to determine the precise death toll. By that time, the 2016 record will likely be broken by this year's stats since the rising mortality rate for drug overdoses shows no signs of slowing down.
While the exact numbers haven't been determined yet, it's already clear that America desperately needs a solution to the opioid crisis. And medical marijuana could be that solution.
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 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 dependent on unscientific anti-cannabis rhetoric.
The American government couldn't be more backward on cannabis. Science suggests 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. Christie, incidentally, has been tapped by President Trump to chair a panel responsible for finding a solution to the opioid epidemic. Which is like hiring a firefighter who thinks the leading cause of fire is water.
The worst part is that Christie isn't an outlier. 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 recently said that marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin. And he didn't make that remark in ignorance of scientific research. He has recognized and dismissed studies supporting the medicinal value of marijuana.
“I’ve heard people say we could solve our heroin problem with marijuana,” he 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 added.
So it's hard to imagine that the Trump administration will do anything but exacerbate the opioid epidemic while prohibitionists like Christie and Sessions scapegoat a potential solution to the crisis as the problem - even though nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose. But the body count for 'Reefer Madness' rhetoric is climbing.