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Making Matters Worse: DEA's Move to Restrict Opioid Prescriptions Pushed Users to the Dark Web

By the end of 2013, the country's quiet opioid addiction crisis was no longer so quiet. Opioid overdose deaths that year topped 16,000, more than four times the same statistic for 1999. That prompted a number of measures at the state and federal level to rein in opioid prescriptions, including a move by the DEA in October 2014 to tighten its policies around some of the most commonly prescribed opioids.

Dark Web fentanyl sales rose after the DEA restricted some prescription opioids. (Creative Commons)
The new DEA policy -- aimed at popular opioids such as Vicodin and Lortab -- imposed restrictions on doctors' prescribing and made it more difficult for patients to get refills. In one sense, the policy was a success: Prescriptions for those drugs decreased almost immediately. But new research adds to an increasing body of evidence that restricting opioid prescribing has not solved the opioid crisis but instead worsened it.

Since the DEA policy shift, opioid overdose deaths continued to grow with more than 40,000 fatal opioid overdoses in 2016. And while prescription opioid overdose deaths have slightly decreased -- there were about 14,000 that year -- overdose deaths from heroin and non-prescription synthetic opioids such as fentanyl went through the roof. Heroin and illicit synthetics accounted for nearly two-thirds of all opioid overdose deaths in 2016.

In the new study, published this week in the British Medical Journal, researchers examining the impact of the DEA policy shift found evidence that while the change indeed lowered prescribing rates for the opioids in question, it was also linked to an increase in illicit online sales of those drugs in Dark Web drug markets.

The researchers used software called DATACRYPTO to crawl encrypted Dark Web marketplaces where people can anonymously buy damned near anything, from drugs to guns to credit card numbers. DATACRYPTO harvested data on which drugs were for sale, their country of origin, and the number of customer comments on each seller's comments page. Researchers used that last figure as a proxy for how much of a drug that seller sold. They examined sales of prescription opioids, sedatives, stimulants, and steroids, as well as heroin. It was only with prescription opioids that they found a significant Dark Web sales bump.

Here's what they found: "The sale of prescription opioids through US cryptomarkets increased after the schedule change, with no statistically significant changes in sales of prescription sedatives, prescription steroids, prescription stimulants, or illicit opioids."

According to their data, prescription opioids doubled their market share of U.S. Dark Web drug sales thanks to the DEA policy change. By July 2016, opioids represented 13.7% of all drug sales in U.S. cryptomarkets, compared with a modeled estimate of 6.7% of all sales.

While the researchers were careful to not make claims of causation -- only correlation -- their conclusion speaks for itself: "The scheduling change in hydrocodone combination products coincided with a statistically significant, sustained increase in illicit trading of opioids through online US cryptomarkets. These changes were not observed for other drug groups or in other countries. A subsequent move was observed towards the purchase of more potent forms of prescription opioids, particularly oxycodone and fentanyl."

Not only is the DEA policy change linked to increased Dark Web opioid sales, it is also linked to a move toward more powerful, and thus more dangerous, opioids. The researchers noted that while fentanyl was the least purchased Dark Web opioid in the summer of 2014, it was the second most frequently purchased by the summer of 2016. Fentanyl killed as many people as prescription opioids that year.

This study -- one of the few that examines supply reduction (as opposed to demand reduction) as a means reducing drug use -- strongly suggests that supply-side interventions carry unintended consequences, especially the resort to more dangerous and more powerful substitutes. The study's authors refer to this effect as "the iron law of prohibition, whereby interventions to reduce supply, such as increased enforcement and changes to drug scheduling, lead to illicit markets dominated by higher potency products."

Perhaps better than restricting opioid prescriptions, which has deleterious impacts on the tens of millions of Americans suffering chronic pain, or other supply-side interventions, would be increased access to addiction treatment, as well as greatly expanded harm reduction measures to try to get people off opioids and keep them alive in the meantime.

Chronicle AM: DOJ to Clamp Down on Pain Pills, Sanders Files Opioid Bill, More... (4/18/18)

Maine lawmakers pass another legal marijuana implementation bill, this time with veto-proof majorities; the Justice Department eyes a crackdown on pain pill production, Bernie Sanders takes aim at opioid makers and distributors, and more.

The Justice Department wants to crack down on pail pill production. And Congress is eyeing action, too. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Legal Marijuana Implementation Bill, Governor Vows Veto. The state Senate on Tuesday approved the bill that would finally allow retail marijuana sales. The bill passed the House earlier and now goes to the desk of Gov. Paul LePage, who has threatened to veto it because it doesn't combine the state's adult use marijuana and medical marijuana regimes. LePage vetoed a similar bill last year. But this time around, the bill passed with enough support to overcome a veto. LePage has 10 days to sign, veto, or let the bill become law without his signature.

Medical Marijuana

Bipartisan Bill to Let VA Study Medical Marijuana Filed. A group of House Democrats and Republicans have filed HR 5520, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act. The bill would clarify that the Veterans Administration has the authority to study medical marijuana and encourages the agency to do so. The bill would require the VA to report regularly to Congress about its progress on medical marijuana research. The bill is being championed by leaders in the House Veterans Affairs Committee and has 34 cosponsors.

Massachusetts High Court Urges Lawmakers to Clarify Law on Home Cultivation. In an opinion in a case of a medical marijuana patient arrested for growing 22 pot plants, the state's Supreme Judicial Court has urged lawmakers to revisit the law around home grows by patients. The law allows patients to grow enough marijuana to create a 60-day supply, defined in the state as 10 ounces. But the justices found the current law problematic and suggested a plant-based limit would be clearer. "Statutory and regulatory clarification would be most beneficial," wrote Justice Scott Kafker in the opinion in the case, Commonwealth vs. Richardson.

Hemp

Oklahoma Hemp Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. The Senate on Tuesday approved House Bill 2913, which would legalize industrial hemp production. The measure has already passed the House, so it now goes to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Justice Department Proposes New Regulations to Limit Prescription Opioid Production. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday proposed new regulations for how the DEA sets opioid production quotas that could severely limit the amount of pain pills produced. "Under this proposed new rule, if DEA believes that a company's opioids are being diverted for misuse, then they will reduce the amount of opioids that company can make," Sessions said in prepared remarks. The proposed change must still go through the federal rule-making process before going into effect. It will be published in the Federal Register and opened to public comment in coming days.

Bernie Sanders Files Bill to Rein in Big Pharma on Opioids. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Tuesday filed Senate Bill 2961, which would ban drug companies from marketing opioids as non-addictive and fines them 25% of their profits if they violate the rule. The bill also seeks to stop pharmaceutical companies from distributing amounts of opioids "not medically reasonable," in a bid to stop distributors from flooding small towns with pills. "We know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured," Sanders said in a statement. "They knew how dangerous these products were but refused to tell doctors and patients," he said. "Yet, while some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in an epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year."

Harm Reduction

Maine Bill to End Age Restrictions on Naloxone Heads to Governor's Desk. Both houses of the legislature have approved Legislative Document 1892, which ends age restrictions on the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. Gov. Paul LePage (R) wants to limit naloxone access without a prescription to people 21 and over and has vetoed other naloxone access bills, but this bill has passed with a veto-proof majority. LePage has 10 days to act.

International

The Bangladeshi Department of Narcotics Control has proposed new drug legislation for the country which includes the use of the death penalty for people caught selling more than 200 grams of methamphetamine. Under current law, the maximum punishment is 15 years in prison. Bangladeshi law already allows the death penalty for some other drug offenses, including heroin trafficking, but its use is actually very rare in the country. The last execution for a drug offense was in 2009.

Chronicle AM: 11K Tainted MA Drug Cases Thrown Out, Chronic Pain Patients to Rally, More... (4/6/18)

Chronic pain patients will be rallying at state capitals Saturday to demand they not be sacrificed on the altar of the war on opioids, Massachusetts throws out 11,000 drug cases linked to a disgraced state lab chemist, and more.

For the second time, a disgraced state drug lab chemist has cost Massachusetts thousands of drug convictions. (af.mil.gov)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Group Pushes for More Minorities in Marijuana Business. The New Jersey Minority Alliance has been in talks with Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), the lead sponsor of the marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 30, about revising it to expand minority inclusion. The group has a Social Equity Program under which communities adversely affected by the drug war would be given special consideration to establish marijuana operations. The plan would also remove barriers to entry related to prior drug arrests. Scutari says he finds the plan "interesting."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Chronic Pain Patients to Rally on Saturday. Concerned that the crackdown on prescription opioids in the midst of the country's opioid problem is leaving them without sufficient access to pain medications, chronic pain patients will be rallying in 45 state capitals on Saturday. The Don't Punish Pain Rally aims to fight the stigma against people with chronic or intractable pain and bring awareness to the many suffering under new prescription guidelines. "Our government really doesn't belong intruding into the physician-patient relationship and that's what's happening, said Deborah Toucheshawks, one of the senior rally organizers. "When I get a message [that] my family member has end-stage cancer and they won't give him anything for pain and now he wants to kill himself, that's a problem."

Criminal Justice

Massachusetts Court Throws Out 11,000 Drug Convictions Tainted By State Chemist. The state's highest court on Thursday threw out more than 11,000 drug convictions where evidence was tainted by being analyzed by disgraced state chemist Sonja Farak. Farak had worked as a chemist at the state's Amherst drug lab from 2004 until 2013, when she was arrested for stealing cocaine from the facility. She later admitted that during that entire period, she treated the drug lab's evidence supply as her own personal stash and tested seized drugs while under the influence of meth, cocaine, ketamine, ecstasy on a daily basis. Farak isn't the first state lab chemist to flame out and cost the state thousands of convictions. Last year, more than 21,000 convictions were thrown out in cases linked to Annie Dookhan, who admitted doctored the results of about one is six drug cases tried in the state between 2003 and 2012.

Chronicle AM: DEA Annual Threat Assessment Released, Trump Opium Event Thursday, More... (10/24/17)

The White House could announce a national opioid emergency on Thursday, the DEA releases its annual drug threat assessment, the Maine legislature approves a marijuana regulation bill, and more.

The opioid epidemic is front and center in the drug policy debate, and in the eyes of the DEA. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legislature Passes Marijuana Regulation Bill, Governor May Veto. The legislature approved a bill to regulate the state's impending legal marijuana market Monday, but not by big enough a margin to withstand an expected veto by Gov. Paul LePage (R). The bill would set up a licensing system and set a 10% sales tax and a weight-based excise tax for transactions between growers and retailers. If LePage vetoes the bill, the result could be "chaos" that would throw "oxygen onto the fire of the black market," said Sen. Roger Katz (R-Augusta) in remarks reported by the Bangor Daily News. LePage has said he wants to postpones retail sales until next year.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

White House to Host Opioid Event on Thursday. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has announced that it will host an event Thursday on "the nationwide opioid crisis." The announcement did not make clear what the event will be, but could be the declaration of a national emergency around the opioid crisis. President Trump surprised his advisors last week by saying he would make such an announcement this week.

Trump Opioid Commission Member Not Optimistic. In an interview Monday, Trump opioid commission member former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) said he was not optimistic that any recommendations from the commission will lead to any effective action to ameliorate the opioid crisis. Kennedy told the Washington Post "the worry is that" the commission's final recommendations, set for release next week, "won't be adopted."

Drug Store Group Offers Recommendations to Ease Opioid Crisis. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which has been criticized on some fronts for contributing to the crisis, has suggested four public policy initiatives that could help rein it in. Among the policy prescriptions are a seven-day limit for initial opioid prescriptions, nationwide electronic prescription monitoring, the use of manufacturer-funded envelopes to return unused opioids, and regulation of synthetic opioids. The association did not address the impact such policy prescriptions could have on chronic pain patients.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment. The agency released its annual report Monday, and it concentrates on the opioid crisis. The report notes the high number of prescription opioid overdose deaths, warns that heroin is a "serious public health and safety threat," notes the rise of fentanyl, says "the methamphetamine threat remains prevalent," "the cocaine threat continues to rebound," and that the emergence of new psychoactive substances remains "a challenge," among other findings. It qualifies Mexican drug trafficking organizations as "the greatest criminal drug threat in the United States."

Chronicle AM: CVS to Limit Opioid 'Scrips, Sessions Slams Legal Pot (Again), More... (9/21/17)

The attorney general makes clear yet again that he doesn't like legal weed, a Kentucky court throws out a medical marijuana lawsuit, one of the nation's largest pharmacy chains is moving to tighten up on opioid prescriptions, Rodrigo Duterte is ready to kill his own kid for the sake of the drug war, and more.

Attorney General Sessions reprises a favorite theme even as his underlings ponder what to do about legal cannabis. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Sessions Attacks Marijuana Legalization Again. "I've never felt that we should legalize marijuana," Sessions said Wednesday in San Diego in remarks reported by Reuters. "It doesn't strike me that the country would be better if it's being sold at every street corner," he added, noting that it remains prohibited under federal law. But despite the attorney general's repeated anti-legalization comments, the Justice Department has yet to move seriously against states where it is legal. Last week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the Cole memo, which set the Obama administration's largely laissez-faire policy toward legal pot states, is now under review.

Maine Legislators Propose Online and Drive-Through Pot Sales. Proposed regulations from the legislature's marijuana committee would let adults buy pot over the Internet and at drive-through windows at licensed pot shops. The rules are not yet set, however, and opponents are seeking to tighten access. Stay tuned.

Las Vegas Gets First 24-Hour Pot Shop. The city council voted unanimously Wednesday to allow a pot shop, Oasis Cannabis, to stay open 24 hours a day. It will be the first 24/7 pot shop to be located near the Strip, but other pot shops in nearby North Las Vegas are already open around the clock. In approving the move, the council overrode its own city code, which requires pot businesses to shut down between 3:00am and 6:00am.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Court Dismisses Lawsuit Aimed at Governor, Attorney General. A lawsuit filed against Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) seeking to force them to legalize medical marijuana in the state was thrown out Wednesday. A Franklin circuit court judge ruled that legal precedent makes it clear that only the legislature can regulate the use of marijuana in the state -- not the executive branch and not the courts.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

CVS to Limit Opioid Prescriptions in Bid to Address Crisis. The national drug store chain announced Thursday it will take steps to limit initial prescriptions to seven-day supplies for new patients facing acute pain. It will instruct pharmacists to contact prescribing doctors if they see prescriptions with what they believe are more opioids than necessary. The chain will also cap daily dosages and require new patients to get medications that offer short-period pain relief instead of longer duration ones. CVS did not address how the moves would impact patients suffering from chronic pain.

Nevada Governor Sets Opioid Task Force Meeting. Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) has announced that the state's task force on opioid abuse is set to meet Monday. He said the task force will hear updates from state and federal agencies on their progress in fighting opioid abuse. The task force has already made the overdose reversal drug naloxone available to first responders, Sandoval noted.

Asset Forfeiture

lIllinois Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) signed House Bill 303 into law on Tuesday. The new law does not end civil asset forfeiture, but raises the bar for seizures, mandates the collection and reporting of seizure data, and imposes new sanctions for abuse or violations of asset forfeiture rules. Under the new law, the government's burden of proof standard rises from probable cause to a preponderance of the evidence. The law also provides that possession of small amounts of drugs will no longer be a legal basis for forfeiture.

International

Duterte Tells Cops to Kill His Own Son if Drug Smuggling Rumors Are True. In a not very reassuring effort to demonstrate that his own family is not above the law, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said in a speech Wednesday that police could kill his children if they prove to be involved in drugs. The remarks came amid reports that his 42-year-old son Paolo was involved in drug smuggling. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Duterte said he warned his son: "My orders are to kill you if you are caught, and I will protect the police who kill you." That way, people wouldn't think the first family was getting special treatment. "That's better ... so I can say to the people: "There, you keep talking. That's my son's corpse,' he said.

Chronicle AM: CA Safe Injection Site Blocked for Now, No Toronto Pot Lounges, More... (9/19/17)

The California safe injection bill comes up two votes short of passing this year, Toronto authorities ignore the pleas of pot lounge operators for a place under legalization, Virginia's Democratic attorney general comes out with a plan to fight opioid overdoses, and more.

No safe injection sites for California this year. Maybe next year. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Want to Legalize It, Republicans Not So Much. Three leading Democratic contenders for the party's gubernatorial nomination support legalization, while the sole Republican in the race does not. Democrat Peter DeBenedittis released a statement Monday calling for legalization, prompting Democrats Jeff Apodaca and US Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham to come out for it as well. The sole Republican, US Rep Steve Pearce opposes legalization, as does one Democrat, state Rep. Joseph Cervantes. But Cervantes noted that he has sponsored legislation reducing penalties for possession.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Deadline Sees Rush of Applicants for Grower, Distributor Licenses. A Monday deadline for grower and distributor applications saw applicants flood the state office building where the paperwork is delivered. Firm numbers weren't available, but applicants overwhelmed the clerks on duty and faced hours-long waits to get processed.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Virginia Attorney General Releases Plan to Fight Opioid Epidemic. State Attorney General Mark Herring (D) on Monday released a plan to address the growing number of deaths caused by the use of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids. Among the proposals: harsher laws for people dealing in fentanyl, enhanced electronic prescription monitoring, requiring health insurers to cover alternative treatments for pain, teaching schoolchildren about opioids beginning in middle school, and an investigation into price gouging by companies selling naloxone. News accounts don't indicate any discussion in Herring's plan of the need to ensure the availability of opioid pain relievers to those patients who do need them, nor any critical examination of his proposal for increased sentences.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Falls Short in State Senate. A bill that would have opened the way to safe injection sites in the state has come up two votes short in the state Senate. The measure, Assembly Bill 186, is not dead, however. Even though the Senate did not vote to pass it, it did vote to reconsider it next year.

International

Toronto Just Says No to Marijuana Lounges. Despite the pleas of pot consumption lounge owners, some of whom have been open for years, the city's municipal standards and licensing committee voted 4-1 to limit marijuana businesses to government-run stores. The committee also voted to increase penalties for businesses that allow on-site consumption. The city is staying within the parameters set by the Ontario provincial government, which recently announced plans for a government monopoly on pot sales.

Lesotho Becomes First African County to Issue Medical Marijuana License. The country's health ministry has licensed a South African company, Verve Dynamics, to manufacture medical marijuana products, marking a first for the continent.

Peru Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. Spurred by a recent raid on a makeshift medical marijuana facility that mothers were using to soothe their sick children, the Peruvian congress is advancing a medical marijuana bill. The bill has now passed the congressional Committee on National Defense and heads to the full Congress for debate and a final vote. President Pablo Kucyzinski has supported the legislation.

Amnesty International Criticizes Indonesia's Turn to Harsh Drug War. The government's tough stance against drug dealers is leading to an increasing death toll, the human rights group said. Amnesty's Indonesian affiliate said some 80 people had been killed by police in the drug war so far this year, more than four times as many as last year.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: AG Nominee Stokes MJ Fears, Global Commission Calls for Drug Decrim, More... (11/21/16)

Donald Trump has nominated a harsh drug warrior to head the Justice Department, Montanans will see a slew of bills aiming at making their medical marijuana system more workable (and at least one that wants to kill it), the Global Commission on Drugs called for drug decriminalization, and more.

"Good people don't use marijuana," says Trump's attorney general pick, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Marijuana

Trump's Pick of Jeff Sessions as AG Raises Fears in Marijuana Industry. President-elect Donald Trump (R) has nominated anti-marijuana Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions to head the Justice Department, setting off alarms in the marijuana industry. As attorney general, Sessions would oversee federal prosecutors and the DEA and could move to undo the Obama administration's policy of largely allowing the states to set their own course on pot policy.

Colorado Bureaucrats Nix On-Site Pot Consumption for Bars. Just a week after voters in Denver approved a social use initiative allowing restaurants and bars to seek permits to allow on-site consumption of marijuana, the Department of Public Health and Environment has announced that it will not allow liquor license-holders to obtain such permits. The department said using alcohol and marijuana together increases impairment. But proponents of the measure said alcohol establishments already rely on the judgment of servers and that the move would allow consumers to use marijuana products without having to go outside or hide behind closed doors.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Dispensary Operator Eyes 2018 Expansion Initiative. The owners of the Wellness Center, an Apache Junction dispensary, are moving toward an initiative to expand the state's medical marijuana program. The move comes a week after a legalization initiative was narrowly defeated. The initiative would expand the list of qualifying conditions for marijuana and it would allow people who live more than a mile from a dispensary to grow their own. The current law bars people who live within 25 miles of a dispensary from growing their own.

After Initiative Victory, Medical Marijuana Bills Pile Up in Montana. Montanans voted last week to restore their state's medical marijuana system, which had been gutted by the Republican legislature in 2011, and now the legislature faces at least 10 bills designed either to make the system more workable or to try to thwart the will of the voters once again. It's going to be a busy session in Helena.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky Legislator Files Bill to Limit First-Time Opioid Prescribing. State Rep. Jeff Taylor (D-Hopkinsville) has prefiled a bill, BR 202, that would limit first-time adult prescriptions for non-chronic pain relief to a seven-day supply. The bill does include an exception that would allow a doctor to prescribe a longer supply if deemed medically necessary.

Kratom

Still Ten Days Left to Comment on Proposed Kratom Ban. Anyone who wants to commit on the DEA's plan to schedule kratom has until December 1 to do so. Click on the link for more information.

International

New Report Calls on UK to Legalize Marijuana. A new report from the Adam Smith Institute says that Great Britain's drug strategy "has failed in its core aims to prevent people from using drugs, manufacturing drugs, and to put a stop to the crime, corruption and death that is taking place on an industrial scale around the world," and calls on the government to legalize marijuana. The report is winning support from a cross-party parliamentary group that includes former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

Global Commission on Drugs Calls for Global Drug Decriminalization. In its annual report, the Global Commission on Drugs has called for an end to criminal and civil penalties for drug possession and more research into alternative regulatory models. The report comes months after the commission sharply criticized the United Nations' refusal to embrace more radical drug reforms at its UNGASS on Drugs last spring. Commission member Richard Branson called the UN's status quo approach "fatally flawed" at the time.

Using Medical Marijuana to Reduce Dependence on Opiates in an Aging, Aching Population [FEATURE]

Pain is a drag. And chronic pain is a never-ending drag. Unfortunately, as we grow older, we can expect to increasingly suffer its torments. Half of older adults who live on their own report suffering from chronic pain. For people in elderly care facilities, that figure jumps to somewhere around 80%.

Older patients reported relief and good quality of life with marijuana. (Darren Harris Frisby/DPA)
An aging population with its associated aches and pains is one reason opioid pain prescriptions have increased so dramatically this century. Opiates are a very popular pain management technique, despite the well-known problems with them, primarily addiction and lethality. They can ease your pain, but they can also kill you or get you strung out. And opiate users report other problems less severe, but still affecting quality of life, such as constipation and foggy-headedness.

In recent years, we have seen increasing evidence that one substance can reduce both pain and the reliance on opioids to treat it, and that its use can have a positive impact on fatal opioid overdoses. That substance is marijuana.

As the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reported in 2014, "In states where it is legal to use medical marijuana to manage chronic pain and other conditions, the annual number of deaths from prescription drug overdose is 25% lower than in states where medical marijuana remains illegal."   

Now, new research findings from Care By Design, one of California's leading medical marijuana producers, add more evidence of the positive role marijuana can play in treating chronic pain and reducing dependence on opioid pain medications. The study surveyed 800 patients, mostly between 50 and 70, more than 80% of whom reported suffering from chronic pain, half of whom reported suffering from acute pain, and more than 40% of whom reported suffering from both.

These patients were in a world of hurt and had tried a number of pain management tools—opiates, medical marijuana, anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDS), nerve blockers, exercise/physical therapy, and surgery—with respondents reporting trying an average of four of them. A quarter of patients reported having tried all six.  

The patients reported that marijuana was very effective for pain, with few negative side effects.  That was in striking distinction to opiates, which patients also said were effective for pain, but had a significant negative impact on quality of life for a significant number of them. In fact, the differences between the two substances in terms of quality of life were so dramatic they led to dramatic changes in patient behavior.

Medical marijuana (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
"This survey brings some very important information to light," said Care By Design spokesman Nick Caston. "We see here in our patient data that cannabis is improving the quality of life of our patients—particularly elderly patients suffering from age-related pain—and that it does so without the dangerous side effects of other pain management modalities. 

"The study’s most striking finding was cannabis’ apparent impact on opiate reliance: Ninety-one percent of survey respondents reported that they decreased the amount of opiates they were taking or eliminated them altogether," Caston continued.

The study also found while marijuana, opiates, exercise/physical therapy, and NSAIDS all provided noticeable pain relief in more than half the patients, marijuana was the only pain management tool where there were no reports of worsening pain. And half of the patients using opiates reported that they had a negative impact on overall well-being, interfering with mood, energy, sleep, and functional abilities.

More than half of the patients reported using both marijuana and opiates to manage pain. But as noted above, nine out of 10 reduced or eliminated their opiate consumption after beginning to use marijuana. And nearly two-thirds (63%) said they were now off opiates altogether.

Over half of respondents reported that they had used both cannabis and opiates for pain management. Of great interest was the impact of cannabis therapy on opiate usage: Ninety-one percent of this subgroup reported that they used fewer or no opiates after beginning cannabis therapy. Sixty-three percent said that they went off opiates altogether.

"A tenet of healthcare in the United States is 'First, do no harm,'" the study concluded. "Patient reports of cannabis’ efficacy together with its low side effect profile suggest that it should be considered as a first-line treatment for pain and/or as an adjunct treatment to opiates rather than as a medication of last resort."

In other words, if we want to reduce the reliance on opioids, with all their negatives, for the management of pain in an aging population, we should be easing access to medical marijuana. With medical marijuana legal in 25 states, we're halfway there. 

Chronicle AM: UK Public Health Groups Call for Decrim, MPP Endorses Gary Johnson, More... (6/16/16)

Busy, busy: There's movement on marijuana banking, Gary Johnson picks up MPP's endorsement, a leading California cannabis oil producer gets busted, the AMA casts on leery eye on patient pain reports, a congresswoman wants to drug test the rich, British public health groups call for decrim, the Thai government wants to end the war on meth, and more.

Libertarian Gary Johnson has won the endorsement of the Marijuana Policy Project because of his pro-legalization stance.
Marijuana Policy

Senate Committee Approves Measure to Ease Pot Businesses' Access to Financial Services. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted 16-14 to approve an amendment that would bar the Treasury Department from punishing banks that do business with state-legal marijuana businesses. The amendment is part of the FY 2017 Financial And General Government Services Appropriations Act, which now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Marijuana Policy Project Endorses Libertarian Gary Johnson for President. MPP has formally endorsed Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson for president, saying he was the obvious choice as the most pro-marijuana legalization candidate on the ballot. The group said its endorsement was based solely on his marijuana policies.

New York Assembly Passes Bill to Seal Records for Misdemeanor Marijuana Convictions. The Assembly has passed Assembly Bill 10092, which will seal the conviction records of people charged with misdemeanor offenses. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the move was in response to New York City police charging people with misdemeanors for possession of marijuana in public. Simple possession is decriminalized in the state.

Medical Marijuana

Leading California Medical Marijuana Oil Maker Busted.Police, including DEA agents, raided five properties associated with a well-known medical marijuana products manufacturer in Northern California's Sonoma County Wednesday morning, detaining at least nine people and arresting one on suspicion of felony drug manufacture for his role in cannabis oil production.The operation raided was Care By Design (CBD Guild), which produces CBD-rich cannabis oils for use in sprays, gels, and cannabis oil cartridges for vaporizers. The company offers products with five different ratios of CBD to THC so "patients can adjust their cannabis medicine to suit their specific conditions and personal preferences." Police accused the operation of using dangerous and illegal butane extraction for their oils, but Care By Design says that is not the case.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

AMA Resolutions Aim to Curb Opioid Abuse, Will Ignore Patients' Pain Reports. At its annual meeting in Chicago, the American Medical Association (AMA) approved a number of resolutions aimed at curbing the misuse of prescription opioids. One called for removing any barriers to non-opioid pain therapies, one calls for promoting increased access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), but "the group also voted in favor of efforts to remove pain as a vital sign in professional standards, as well as disconnecting patient satisfaction scores from questions related to the evaluation and management of pain," a move that may not bode well for chronic pain patients.

Asset Forfeiture

Company Now Offers Asset Forfeiture Insurance to Cannabusinesses. CBZ Insurance Services is now offering coverage to protect state-legal marijuana businesses from the threat of seizure and asset forfeiture. The company's "search and confiscation" coverage applies only to entities that are state-legal and are found innocent of any raid-related charges. "A legally operating cannabis business has unique challenges other types of businesses don't have," said CBZ's Jeffrey Rosen. "One challenge is the threat of being shut down at any time by law enforcement. Whether you're a grower, distributor or manufacturer, search and seizure coverage is the best protection for a company's assets."

Drug Testing

Congresswoman Wants to Drug Test the Rich Before Approving Tax Deductions. US Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) has called for requiring wealthy Americans to undergo a drug test before approving their tax deductions. Moore said she will file the bill because she is "sick and tired, and sick and tired of being sick and tired, of the criminalization of poverty," referring to efforts pushed by Republican governors and legislators to impose drug testing requirements on people seeking public benefits. "We're not going to get rid of the federal deficit by cutting poor people off SNAP. But if we are going to drug-test people to reduce the deficit, let's start on the other end of the income spectrum."

International

British Public Health Bodies Call for Drug Decriminalization. Two leading public health bodies say drug use is a health issue, not a criminal one, and have called for drug decriminalization. The Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health said that criminalizing drug use has not deterred people from using drugs, and that those harmed by drug use are harmed again by punishment. "We have taken the view that it is time for endorsing a different approach," said Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society. "We have gone to our stakeholders and asked the public and tried to gain some consensus from our community and the public, because that is very important." The society has detailed in its new line in the aptly named report Taking a New Line on Drugs.

Thailand Government Proposes Ending War on Meth and Regulating It Instead. Thai Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya has suggested removing meth from the country's dangerous illicit drug list and putting it in the same category as medicinal drugs, with controls -- not bans -- on distribution, sale, and use of the drug. Current measures to suppress the drug have not worked, he said. Paiboon's comments came in a discussion of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), which met in April. "The world has now surrendered to drugs, and has come to think of how to live with drugs. It is like a man suffering from cancer and having no cure and he has to live a happy life with the cancer," Gen Paiboon said. The government has drawn up a bill that would do that, he said.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org"s lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: CA MJ Driving Bill Killed, OH MedMJ Init Quits, More... (5/31/16)

An effort to create a per se marijuana DUID law in California ran into a brick wall of science, the Ohio effort to put a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot shuts down, a US senator seeks an investigation into Purdue Pharma over its claims on OxyContin's extended effectiveness, and more.

The California Assembly rejects a per se marijuana DUID bill after hearing there is no scientific basis for it. (Wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Driving While High Bill Killed. A bill that sought to create a per se marijuana drugged driving level of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood has been killed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The committee killed it and a bill that would have let police use oral swabs to strengthen cases after cannabis industry officials said they were not supported by science.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Medical Marijuana Program Gets Extension, Expansion. The House Friday voted to approve a plan to expand the state's medical marijuana program by adding PTSD and terminal illness to the program's list of qualifying conditions and by extending the program for an additional 2 ½ years. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has now come around and says he supports the bill, which still needs a final Senate vote. The measure is Senate Bill 10.

Ohio Medical Marijuana Initiative Backers Call It Quits. Faced with a medical marijuana bill approved by the legislature and awaiting the governor's signature, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana announced Saturday that they were ending their campaign to put an initiative on the November ballot. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed effort decided to call it quits because "the reality is that raising funds for medical marijuana policy changes is incredibly difficult, especially given the improvements made to the proposed program by the Ohio General Assembly and the fact that the Governor is expected to sign the bill." The bill passed by the legislature will allow people with about 20 different diseases and conditions to use marijuana, but not to smoke it.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

US Senator Calls on Feds to Investigate Purdue Pharma Over OxyContin Time-Effectiveness Claims. A US senator has called for a federal investigation of Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, in the wake of reports that the money-making pain reliever wears off early in many patients, leaving them exposed to pain and increased risk of addiction. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) Friday sent letters to the Justice Department, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Trade Commission urging them to begin probes of the Connecticut-based drug maker.

New York Overdose Tracking Bill Goes to Governor. The Senate and the Assembly have both approved a bill that requires the state Health Department to track non-fatal drug overdoses in a bid to get a more complete picture of opioid drug use in the state. The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

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