Heroin use is getting worse in the U.S. Much, much worse. According to a recently released study by the CDC, from 2002 to 2013 heroin addiction doubled for Americans while the number of heroin overdoses has nearly tripled. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) finds that 4.9 million in this country have used heroin. And the problem may only be getting worse.
The people most affected by this new plague or young, middle class, whiteys, which sadly means that the government is going to be faster to act than they are in some other drug epidemics. But still, not enough is being done to turn back the clock on heroin use. So, what’s there to do?
Jon Gettman, a writer at High Times, thinks the solution might be our old friend, the weed. Gettman’s logic goes like this: the CDC reports that those most at risk for heroin addiction are those already addicted to prescription opioid painkillers. “45 percent of people who have used heroin were also addicted” to them, according to the CDC.
Often, users get hooked after getting a legitimate prescription for an injury, then an addiction forms, and then the prescription runs out. But you can get the same kick from the (often times cheaper) opioids found in heroin.
So, the High Times writer argues that we should work our way back to the root problem of over-prescribing prescription opioids and replace some of these prescriptions with marijuana recommendations. Gettman writes that, “cannabis therapeutics provide a safe alternative” to painkillers and “has proven pain-relief properties, however unlike opiates, it does not affect the medulla—the part of the brain that controls heart rate and breathing.”
It’s like the blockbuster sequel where you have to bring the old bad guy in to fight the new bad guy, so the old bad guy is kind of like a good guy now. The only one who can defeat the new genetically modified Jurassic World dinosaur are the velociraptors. The only one who can help Ocean’s 11 pull off their new heist is their old foe Andy Garcia. And, in a clever role reversal, could the only one who can help us battle our deadly antagonist heroin be the previously vilified evil Mary Jane?
Maybe. Honestly, Gettman’s argument is a little hazy. He’s certainly right that marijuana does not come with the same troubling side effects as opiates do, but there isn’t enough research yet to show how effective weed can be for pain. Common sense says it works, but it’s not as immediately effective as painkillers. Common sense also says that even the world’s biggest dab isn’t going to alleviate deep, serious, chronic pain the same way a steady diet of oxycontin will.
But, certainly for minor injuries it seems more reasonable to prescribe marijuana than some pharmaceutical like Vicodin, which is a lot of doctor’s go-to. Any ill effects that come from pot, like slowing reflexes or trouble operating machinery or making you sleepy, also come with Vicodin.
And could that kind of substitution make a difference in the tide swell of heroin use? Maybe. Or, worst case scenario some people with booboos will be high. And that’s not a bad thing.