Sen. Elizabeth Warren to Feds: Study If Medical Pot Can Help With Opioid Epidemic

Last month, Massachusetts lawmakers visited Colorado to learn more about the state's marijuana industry in advance of a 2016 ballot measure in their state — and some of them were pretty freaked out by the experience.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren seems much calmer about the issue — particularly as it applies to the medical use of cannabis and how it might have a positive impact on reducing the epidemic of opioid use in this country.

Warren has written a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (see it below) encouraging the agency to study medical pot as a possible substitute for addictive narcotic painkillers.

This is not a new area of interest for Warren, as is clear from a September 2015 interview with Boston Globe reporter Joshua Miller also shared here.

During the conversation, Miller pointed out that Warren opposed a ballot measure to okay marijuana for recreational use in Massachusetts circa 2012.

This time around, however, Warren said, "I'm open to it. I think we've learned more.

"A couple of states have legalized marijuana for recreational use," she continued, in a clear allusion to Colorado's passage of Amendment 64 four years ago. "Frankly, I think we ought to be learning what we can from those states. I would encourage more research studies about what happens when you do legalize — what kind of shifts it makes in the economy, what kind of shifts it makes in the culture."

She added: "I have been pushing the federal do more research around the medical uses of marijuana, the medical effects. It's just kind of this crazy thing: This country, for so long, has done this, like, 'Marijuana — no. We can't even do scientific research around it.' So I've been pushing to say, 'We ought to explore it.'"

The letter to the CDC's Dr. Thomas Friedan makes the same point — although Warren doesn't even mention marijuana until the last portion of her missive.

It begins like so:
As you know, our country is faced with an opioid epidemic that continues to grow at an alarming pace. I continue to hear stories from constituents across Massachusetts affected by this crisis — parents fighting for their kids, doctors fighting for their patients, and communities fighting for each other. According ot the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, there wre almost 1,100 confirmed cases of unintentional opioid overdose deaths in 2014 — a 65 percent increase from 2012. This 2014 estimate is the highest ever in Massachusetts. Opioid abuse is a national concern and warrants swift and immediate action.

Later in the correspondence, Warren encourages the CDC to work with other federal agencies to learn more about five different topics, with marijuana at the center of the second and third:
(1) the long term impact that opioids have on children treated at a young age;
(2) the use, uptake and effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal;
(3) the impact of the legalization of medical and recerational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths;
(4) the increased use of fentanyl, including its sources;
(5) how fentanyl may be contributing to opiod overdoses and deaths.
An aside: Fentanyl was the substance surgical technician Rocky Allen was accused of stealing at Swedish Medical Center earlier this year — a development that led to letters informing nearly 3,000 patients about the need to be tested for HIV, hepatitis and more.

The drug was also stolen by surgical tech Kristen Parker in 2009, and numerous patients wound up infected with hepatitis as a result. Parker eventually received a sentence of thirty years behind bars for her actions.

It's too soon to know if Warren's call will be answered. But she's the latest powerful voice among many asking for the federal government to consider new approaches to marijuana, medical or otherwise.

Look below to see Warren's September interview and her letter to the CDC.

Elizabeth Warren CDC Letter.pdf

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts