Op-Ed: Trump Administration Is Clueless on Marijuana and Opioids

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In this essay, retired Judge Mary Celeste (bio below) responds to the Trump administration's comments on marijuana and opioids.

This past week saw two indications that the Trump administration is uneducated and clueless about drugs in this country. Its first irresponsible action is the potential halting of federal drug-control efforts. According to the New York Times, the White House is potentially eliminating the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, which coordinates federal efforts to reduce drug use and drug trafficking. “The ONDCP’s website was 'wiped clean' when President Trump took office and it has not been replaced," the paper reported.

The second action was the statement made by press secretary Sean Spicer that the feds may be enforcing federal law when it comes to marijuana because of the opioid crisis. The leading cause of heroin addiction is not the use of marijuana; it is the use and abuse of prescription medication. Opioid prescriptions have grown by 140 percent in the U.S. since the mid-1990s. More importantly, statistics show that four of five heroin addicts were first addicted to prescription "drugs" and about three out of five opioid overdoses occur in people with legitimate prescriptions for pain pills.

Obama administration agencies, along with support from bipartisan Congressional members, enacted a wide range of policies and laws relating to the opioid epidemic. Last year saw the Centers for Disease Control warning doctors about the dangers of prescribing opioid painkillers, the Food and Drug Adminstration reassessing its policies on opioid medications, the Senate passing legislation that would expand drug-abuse treatment and prevention, the feds giving the states $53 million to fight the opioid epidemic, Obama’s 2017 budget granting $1 billion in new mandatory funding over two years to expand access to treatment for prescription-drug abuse and heroin use, and the Drug Enforcement Administration pushing physicians for more responsible prescribing.

Ironically, medical marijuana is being used for harm reduction for opioid addiction in some Middle Eastern countries, including Iran. The drug-addiction community is now exploring whether it can be used as a new approach to harm reduction for addiction. For example, Massachusetts, with its spiraling opiate addiction problem (mostly heroin), is now considering cannabis use for harm reduction for this addiction: “There have been studies out that have shown cannabis, when they take it appropriately, is able to help them reduce their use of these other substances that are highly more toxic to their body."

The kicker: There are studies that show that those states with medical marijuana laws have actually seen a reduction in opioid abuse and overdoses, and even a reduction in automobile-crash fatalities. A Journal of the American Medical Association study looked at medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in the United States, from 1999 to 2010; the Rand study found that marijuana dispensaries were associated with a 16 percent (and possibly as high as a 31 percent) decrease in opioid overdose deaths, especially among men. These findings suggest that providing broader access to medical marijuana may have the potential benefit of reducing abuse of highly addictive painkillers.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded a study at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, which found that there were fewer drivers killed in car crashes who tested positive for opioids in states with medical-marijuana laws than before the laws went into effect. They looked at opioid positivity among drivers ages 21 to 40 who crashed their cars in states with an operational medical-marijuana law, compared with drivers crashing in those states before the laws went into effect.

Lastly, experts have said that they were not aware of any rigorous study finding that marijuana serves as a gateway to opioid abuse.
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Retired judge Mary Celeste is now an expert witness and consultant on cases involving impaired driving, marijuana and drugged driving.
Judge Mary A. Celeste sat on the Denver County Court bench from 2000 to 2015. She was the presiding judge in 2009 and 2010, and the co-founder of the Denver County Sobriety Court. She is the current chair of the ABA National Conference of Specialized Courts and Faculty for the National Center for DWI Courts and the National Judicial College. She has served as the President of the American Judge’s Association and the Colorado Women’s Bar Association Foundation, and as the National Highway Traffic Safety Judicial Outreach Liaison. She has written many articles and is a national speaker on the topics of marijuana and marijuana drug-impaired driving.

The opinions and content of this op-ed piece are those of the author and are not endorsed or approved by NADCP.

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