The use of the deadly drug heroin is steadily rising in the United States. This can certainly be attributed to more access and trafficking of the drug from the southern border. But another major factor is the increasing prominence of opioid painkiller prescriptions and addiction. When one becomes addicted to hydrocodone, oxycodone, Percocet, or any other of the various pain remedies peddled by the large pharmaceutical companies, heroin quickly becomes the cheaper option. One does not need a prescription and it usually takes a lesser hit to their finances.
The CDC reported close to 500,000 deaths attributable to opioid and heroin overdoses from 2000-2014, with a 14% increase from 2013-2014. A lot of those who succumb to heroin addiction and overdose are not the stereotypical drug user. They are people who have had major injuries and/or surgeries that require pain management. They are not drug enthusiasts scouring the streets for a better high. If given the choice of a lower-risk drug to mask their pain, some would surely take it. The road from painkillers to heroin is much shorter than most believe.
That is where medical marijuana comes in. Having been shown to treat chronic pain effectively in some cases, marijuana could eliminate the need for one to start or continue an opioid prescription. A study done in 2013 that was approved by the FDA found that vaporized marijuana "provided statistically significant 30% reductions in pain intensity when compared to placebo”. A 2011 study showed that vaporized "cannabis augments the analgesic effect of opioids" and "the combination (of opioids and cannabinoids) may allow for opioid treatment at lower doses with fewer side effects”. Even if one cannot completely cease use of painkillers, marijuana can help them reduce their dose or wean themselves off. The National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a study in 2015 that revealed that "states permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not”.
The federal and each state’s respective government already have the data they need to push for legalization of medical marijuana. With Colorado and Washington’s marijuana economies thriving and the effectiveness of various medical state’s programs, legalization should be an obvious step in fighting a more pressing epidemic. But as long as the people remain silent and allow the big pharmaceutical companies to rake in record profits from those in pain, the government will continue to turn a blind eye to a truly sensible solution.