During the 2016 election, President Donald Trump promised to end America's opioid epidemic, but the Republican healthcare plan that he is backing does not offer any solutions to the crisis. In fact, it might exacerbate the epidemic, but Trump could save lives by making a bold move on drug reform and legalizing medical marijuana.
In the last 15 years, the number of annual deaths due to opioid abuse has skyrocketed, from just over 10,000 in 2002 to over 33,000 in 2015. And the numbers continue to rise year after year.
Trump has promised to combat the crisis, but the Republican healthcare plan that he's backed doesn't address the issue. So far, Trump's only prescription for America's drug problem is building a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, which he says will put a stop to cartels flooding America's cities with illegal drugs.
But even if the wall makes opioids harder to buy on the street, it won't stamp out the root of addiction. According to former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, "it isn't trafficking rings that introduce a person to opioids. It's the household medicine cabinet. That's the source."
Worse yet, the Republican healthcare plan might exacerbate the opioid epidemic by making cuts that could cost people's lives. The plan would no longer require states to cover addiction services and mental health treatment under Medicaid, which was mandatory under the Obamacare expansion program. That change doesn't mean states have to stop funding addiction treatment, but advocates doubt that they will volunteer to foot the bill for drug addicts.
"They can continue to take on those responsibilities and pay for it out of their own budgets, or, if they are under pressure, they have to scale back," Harvard Medical School Professor Richard G. Frank told CNN. "Historically, states have been loath to cover substance abuse treatment."
And without treatment, many addicts will die, according to Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana Wen, who added that that whatever states save in the short-term won't cover the longterm expenses accrued by the effects of drug addiction. Cutting treatment "could cost the lives of thousands of people," Dr. Wen told The Los Angeles Times. "It’s medically irresponsible. And it’s fiscally irresponsible; it will create costs down the road.”
If Trump is serious about combating opioid epidemic, then his administration should look into medical marijuana as a solution. Although White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer erroneously blames opioid addiction on marijuana, recent studies suggest that cannabis could actually help Americans overcome addiction.
According to a 2014 study published by JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), states that permit medical marijuana have a 24.8 percent lower annual opioid-overdose mortality rate than states the prohibit medicinal cannabis use.
More recently, a 2016 study published in 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.
But medical marijuana isn't available to everyone in America. And although 29 states and Washington, D.C. permit medicinal cannabis use, it is still prohibited by the federal government, which means doctors may prefer to recommend legal (albeit more dangerous) painkillers rather than cannabis.
However, Trump could change that by backing a Republican bill that would end federal marijuana prohibition., which would provide patients across the countries with alternatives to the pills that are fuelling America's opioid epidemic.