In honor of National Drug and Alcohol Awareness Week, we’re continuing our series with a post about opioids.
The last decade has seen a staggering uptick in opioid-related deaths. Opioid misuse and overprescription are ravaging the population of nearly every demographic across the United States. And despite efforts to reduce opioid prescriptions and other measures taken by healthcare practitioners and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), opioid-related deaths are on the rise.
And the issue isn’t just illicit opioids like heroin and fentanyl-laced products, but also FDA-approved prescription painkillers like oxycontin, oxycodone, morphine, and other drugs given out with a doctor’s slip.
Opioids are most commonly prescribed for pain: both for acute (for instance post-surgery) and chronic (pain lasting 3 months or longer). In many cases, opioid overdoses start with painkillers: about 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. And they say cannabis is a gateway drug.
Countless studies and organizations have demonstrated that opioid painkillers have an extremely high potential for addiction, misuse, and a multitude of long-term complications. As such, opioid therapy has become associated with severe risk of overdose, myocardial infarction, sexual dysfunction, and fractures. And efforts to reduce opioid prescriptions in an attempt to reverse this trend have proven largely ineffective.
In an alarming 2019 survey, 40% of primary care physicians surveyed said they would refuse to work with patients who were taking prescription opioids for chronic pain. These kinds of efforts could have serious unforeseen consequences for people in pain –and it only increases the likelihood that these people will “convert” to illicit opioids like heroin to treat their pain, not to mention lose access to healthcare for the other conditions they may have.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 130 people die of an opioid overdose every single day.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, heroin deaths have quadrupled since 2010.
Opioid overdoses increased 30% from July 2016 through September 2017 in 52 areas in 45 states.
Opioid overdoses in the Midwest increased by 70% from July 2016 through September 2017.
The CDC estimates that “the total ‘economic burden’ of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”
Veterans are at a higher risk of OUD (opioid use disorder) than the general population.
A recent study showed an interesting trend in veteran-specific opioid overdoses: Veterans are actually filling fewer opioid prescriptions in the 3 months prior to death, suggesting that an increasing number of veterans are turning to black market opiates like heroin or synthetic opioids to cope.
Chronic pain management is one of the most salient areas of research in the CBD world right now, and scientists are trying to figure out whether CBD and other cannabis-derived compounds may be safer alternatives to opioid prescriptions in the management of chronic pain.
One of these researchers, neuroscientist Dr. Adie Rae Wilson-Poe, is a vocal advocate for the use of cannabinoids (like CBD) as a first-line analgesic instead of opioids, rather than the other way around. Dr. Poe’s life work is centered around the theory that cannabinoid-based therapeutics could be used to reduce opioid dependence and, ultimately, opioid overdose deaths.
The other question scientists are working on finding an answer to is whether CBD could be used to treat opioid addiction itself (as well as other substance use disorders). Some preliminary studies have shown that CBD might reduce cue-induced craving and anxiety, two of the most salient factors that lead to relapse.
More research is necessary to know for sure how CBD might help in the epidemic spread of opioid abuse, but the prospects for CBD are looking good so far. In the words of the World Health Organization: “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential… To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
(2018) Emerging Evidence for Cannabis’ Role in Opioid Use Disorder(2015) The Effectiveness and Risks of Long-Term Opioid Therapy for Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review for a National Institutes of Health Pathways to Prevention Workshop
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