Health

No, Sean Spicer, the Opioid Crisis Didn’t Come from People Smoking Weed

Fact-checking claims that pot is connected to our country’s addiction problem.

by Susan Rinkunas
Feb 24 2017, 4:50pm

NurPhoto / Getty Images

At his daily press conference yesterday, White House press secretary and devoted gum-eater Sean Spicer gave Americans a clearer picture of the Trump administration's stance on weed. It is, in a word, dumb.

Someone asked Spicer what the administration's position would be on marijuana legalization where it's in state-federal conflict. The conflict is this: The US Drug Enforcement Administration classifies pot as Schedule 1, reserved for "drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse." Meanwhile, 28 states and Washington DC have legalized it for medical use; eight of them for recreational use.

So what's going to happen with that? Spicer responded:

There's two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. I think medical marijuana, I've said before, that the president understands the pain and suffering that many people go through, who are facing especially terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them. And that's one that Congress, through a rider in [2014], put an appropriations bill saying that the Department of Justice wouldn't be funded to go after those folks.

There's a big difference between that and recreational marijuana. And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people. There's still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.

He added that when it comes to recreational weed, he believes we'll see "greater enforcement" of it, which rightfully sent the cannabis community into a tizzy.

While it's heartening to know that the administration is concerned about the very real opioid crisis—opioids including prescription painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl killed more than 33,000 people in 2015—the logic here is all wrong. The epidemic came from overprescription of painkillers, not people smoking pot and later becoming heroin addicts. In fact, more than half of those 33,000 deaths were from overdoses of prescription opioids. The government and states have been cracking down on how much doctors can prescribe and, as a result, some patients turned to heroin, which is cheaper than buying pain pills on the street.

As Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) wrote in a review article in the New England Journal of Medicine:

Although opioid analgesics rapidly relieve many types of acute pain and improve function, the benefits of opioids when prescribed for chronic pain are much more questionable. However, two major facts can no longer be questioned. First, opioid analgesics are widely diverted and improperly used, and the widespread use of the drugs has resulted in a national epidemic of opioid overdose deaths and addictions.

Not only are painkillers responsible for the epidemic, but studies have shown that legalization of medical marijuana has been associated with fewer opioid prescriptions, opioid-linked traffic deaths, and overdose deaths. If the Trump administration is concerned about opioid addiction, they should not just begrudgingly accept medical marijuana, but wholeheartedly support it.

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