• Jennifer Betz

Missouri Fentanyl Deaths on the Rise: Can Medical Marijuana be a Solution?


Ending the Opioid Crisis: Medical marijuana for chronic pain

Medical marijuana may offer a promising contribution to ending the opioid crisis ravaging Missouri


Missouri has been among the hardest hit states in the nation when it comes to the opioid epidemic. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of factors that go into our fight against the devastation caused by the illicit sale of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers—and medical marijuana could be one of the solutions.


Street drugs containing fentanyl are responsible for the majority of Missouri’s opioid deaths, and some early research shows that medical marijuana may hold a place in the list of medication-assisted treatments (MAT) for opioid use disorder (OUD), or opioid addiction.


Additionally, chronic pain is on the list of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana in Missouri. Many who end up with an opioid addiction started out taking painkillers prescribed by their doctor. Medical marijuana may help reduce—or completely replace—your use of prescription painkillers.


Some research related to the use of cannabis to treat OUD is conflicting, and medical marijuana is just one part of the solution. However, accounting for the challenges we face in the Show-Me state related to poverty and access to proper treatments, medical marijuana’s role in preventing and treating opioid use disorder needs to be considered.


Important note: If you or someone you know is struggling with an opioid addiction, you are not alone and there is nothing to be ashamed of. There is support out there for you. If you are unsure of where to begin, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 24/7 helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). If you believe you may be experiencing an overdose or withdrawal symptoms, call 9-11 to get help right away.


Opioids: What Are They, and How Did We End up in Crisis Mode?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids are, “a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, and many others.”


We know what you’re probably thinking. “Opioid addiction? Not me.” But if you have ever taken prescription painkillers, there’s a chance they were opioids. And if you’ve taken your sister’s Vicodin for back pain because you just need a few more pills to get you through until your next refill, you experienced the earliest signs of opioid abuse.


When the prescription runs out and patients turn to illegal sources (yes, taking your sister’s Vicodin is illegal), that’s when things start to get dangerous for your average, law-abiding citizen.


Especially in the hardest-hit regions of Missouri, like St. Louis and its metro-area. Illicit access is easy, and you don’t have to be a member of a gang to start picking up more potent products because your regular painkillers aren’t cutting it anymore.


Addicted Before You Know It

Between 21 and 29 percent of people who use opioids end up misusing them, between 8 and 12 percent of people who use opioids to treat chronic pain develop a use disorder, and 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused opioids.


The longer you take opioids for pain management, the more likely you are to build a tolerance to them, which may lead to misusing them in order to get the desired effects without the guidance of a doctor.


Big Pharma at its Worst

Purdue Pharma took advantage of this fact, putting profit over people. The company committed felony crimes in order to sell more of its products. Purdue knowingly distributed opioids to doctors who were then redistributing to people who were known to be addicted; and it promoted its products as safe and effective, while downplaying their addictive qualities.


The company also lied to the FDA about the measures it was taking to prevent drug dependence, leading to an authorization from the Federal agency to distribute even more of its products. And finally, Purdue paid kickbacks to doctors for prescribing its painkillers.


The company ultimately pled guilty in November 2020, to three major felony charges related to the aggressive marketing of its lethal drugs. It was ordered to pay out $8.3 billion to settle the mounting pile of lawsuits, and all future revenue from opioids will go to public addiction recovery and drug rehabilitation programs.


Medical Marijuana’s Role in Ending the Opioid Epidemic

First, it’s important to emphasize that current US research related to cannabis and opioid addiction is conflicted at best. Different studies offer different conclusions, and addiction is a vastly complicated issue affected by socioeconomic status, life experiences, genetics, and even the robustness of your social network.


Cannabis research in the United States has been stunted by the DEA’s prohibition on the plant, but new access has recently opened up. However, we will not have many definitive answers about how cannabis can directly counteract opioid addiction until we’ve had more time to investigate the subject more thoroughly.


We do, however, have a significant amount of research indicating that cannabis can be a powerful and effective painkiller—making medical marijuana an important tool in preventing opioid addiction by eliminating or reducing the need for these kinds of painkillers. The NFL even recently announced that it would fund research into using cannabis to manage pain for its players.


Cannabis: A First Line of Defense for Pain

Despite warnings against using opioids as a first treatment option for chronic pain, primary care physicians write 45% of all prescriptions. In 2018, Missouri doctors wrote 63.4 opioid prescriptions per 100 patients. The national average is 58.7.


In Missouri, people who experience chronic pain are qualified to use medical marijuana to treat their symptoms under the guidance of a doctor. Some studies have indicated that medical marijuana may completely eliminate the need for any additional painkillers.


Other studies indicate that medical marijuana may work synergistically with some opioids, making it possible to take a very low dose of both together in order to get the same results you would get from taking a larger dose of either alone.


Additionally, taking medical marijuana alongside opioid painkillers could prevent building a tolerance—one of the first steps to becoming addicted to opioids.


When patients are able to play a more proactive role in their pain management, there is generally a greater level of satisfaction with treatment outcomes, and medical marijuana gives patients the freedom to experiment to find what works for them.


Cannabis May or May Not Effectively Treat Opioid Use Disorder

A recent study indicated that the number of cannabis dispensaries in a county (up to two) was correlated with a lower number of deaths from opioid overdoses. It’s too early to tell if this will be the case in Missouri as well. Another study indicated that cannabis may reduce withdrawal symptoms, and some states have opioid use disorder (OUD) on their list of qualifying conditions.


However, there is a danger in touting the use of cannabis to treat OUD. OUD is a serious and life-threatening condition, and treatment should always be closely monitored by a doctor who specializes in addiction treatment and recovery.


Simply giving a patient a recommendation and telling them to find what works is not enough when it comes to treating OUD. Any doctor who encourages medical marijuana use in order to treat an opioid addiction needs to be prepared to ensure that the patient is getting proper care in addition to using medicine to assist in their recovery.


A Practical Approach to Combating the Opioid Crisis

At Missouri Marijuana Card, we want everyone to have the comfort, confidence, and resources to seek the assistance and guidance of an addiction specialist when combating an opioid addiction.


But we would be remiss to not give some level of consideration for the fact that some people may never get any sort of treatment from a professional. People may feel uncomfortable seeking out help, and finding treatment has been a challenge in the state.


If this is the case, then using medical marijuana as a way to reduce harm is a reasonable solution.


Finding Help in Missouri for an Opioid Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with issues related to opioid use and you don’t know where to start, know that you are not alone. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 24-hour hotline is 1-800-662-HELP(4357). You can call this number any time day or night, to get help sorting things out from a comforting voice on the other end of the line.


SAMHSA offers treatment referral services and the information you need in order to get on the right track.


Additionally, Missouri’s state-sponsored initiative, Time2Act offers resources for local support, education and training, safer use options, drug take-back programs, and intervention assistance.


You can also check out this list of the top addiction treatment facilities in order to find the place that will fit your needs.


Getting Relief from Chronic Pain With Missouri Marijuana Card

If you are suffering from chronic pain, and you would prefer to take a more proactive, natural approach to your treatment, then give Missouri Marijuana Card a call at (877) 303-3117 or schedule a telehealth appointment to meet with one of our compassionate doctors.


We are able to help you create a treatment plan to meet your pain management goals, and we can help you find the support you need if you are struggling with an addiction to painkillers. We take patient support seriously, and we are here to help every step of the way!


Doctors Who Care. Relief You Can Trust.

At Missouri Marijuana Card, our mission is helping everyone achieve wellness safely and conveniently through increased access to medical marijuana. Our focus on education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce stigma for our patients by providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.


Call us at (877) 303-3117, or simply book a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!


Check out Missouri Marijuana Card’s Blog to keep up to date on the latest medical marijuana news, tips, and information. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to join the medical marijuana conversation in Missouri.


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