In 2017, over 70,000 people died in the United States from drug overdoses according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 28,000 of those deaths involved fentanyl or a similar prescription drug – a number that was just around 3,000 in 2013.
The increase in overdose deaths has become so pronounced that the life expectancy in the U.S. has actually been declining over the last 3 years. “The idea that a developed wealthy nation like ours has declining life expectancy just doesn’t seem right,” said Robert Anderson, the chief of mortality statistics at the C.D.C. “If you look at the other wealthy countries of the world, they’re not seeing the same thing.”
The amount of people getting hooked on opioid medications has also contributed to a rise in the number of people using heroin, an illegal drug that produces similar effects to opioids. When people are cut off from their prescriptions, many turn to heroin rather than suffer through excruciating withdrawals. And where drugs like heroin fail to fill the gap in demand, we are seeing a rise in synthetic opioid use.
“Fentanyl deaths are up, a 45 percent increase; that is not a success,” said Dr. Dan Ciccarone, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “We have a heroin and synthetic opioid epidemic that is out of control and needs to be addressed.”
This news is not surprising to many of you; after all, we have been hearing about the rise in opioid overdoses for a few years now. But doesn’t that highlight the danger that we face? That one day something becomes so commonplace and familiar that we stop worrying about it (at least until it impacts our lives in a more direct manner).
Many of you are also likely aware that an increasing number of studies show medical and recreational marijuana – especially dispensaries – are having a positive effect on the number of people being prescribed opioids and the number of people dying from them.
Hopefully we will get to a point where people will stop demonizing something that is proving to be helpful and focus on the real problem, which is that people don’t like to be in pain, and they will go to great lengths to avoid pain. Some will even go far enough in their quest to avoid pain that they will inadvertently end their own life.
Doctors in many states are still forced to use tools for pain management that are killing people while being legally barred from offering an alternative that is killing no one.
Is cannabis the all-in-one cure for everyone in pain? Of course it’s not. But there is zero reason that people shouldn’t at least have the choice to avoid a path that is killing so many.