America’s opioids crisis has taken a staggering toll, killing more than 42,000 people in 2016 alone and more than 250,000 people over the past decade. On Thursday, underscoring the severity of the crisis, Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued a statement without apparent precedent in which he urged “health care practitioners, family and friends of people who have an opioid use disorder, and community members who come into contact with people at risk for opioid overdose, (to learn) how to use naloxone and (keep) it within reach.”
“Get naloxone,” he wrote. “Save a life.”
Naloxone is the highly effective anti-overdose drug that is now routinely carried by many first responders. Adams’ suggestion that so many Americans have it at hand is a stunning acknowledgment of the pervasiveness of opioids, which he said kill 115 people a day. At that rate, there would be 42,000 more deaths this year, the same as in 2016, an indication anti-opioid efforts have done very little.
Yet you don’t have to look far to find potentially great news on opioids as well. A new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Internal Medicine magazine points to the promise of an inexpensive, far safer drug that could be used as a painkiller instead of opioids: marijuana. The report detailed two massive studies that looked at opioid prescriptions issued over a five-year span under Medicare and Medicaid programs. The studies found that opioid prescriptions dropped by 5.88 percent among states that enacted laws allowing for medicinal use of marijuana and by 6.38 percent among states that passed laws allowing for recreational use. States in which marijuana could be bought at regulated medical dispensaries saw a 14.5 percent decline in opioid prescriptions.
There are two clear takeaways from the findings:
The first is