It’s fitting that a year in which we get a new president would happen to be a year in which there are a number of pending legislative changes pertaining to addiction and recovery. This week, we’re waiting to hear the results of a vote that could approve the use of marijuana for opioid addiction treatment. As well, we’ve learned that an executive order from Donald Trump has instated a new committee intended solely to analyze and develop strategies to alleviate the opioid addiction epidemic. Finally, there’s been an important realization pertaining to addiction and how the disease relates to… itself. (It’s actually not as confusing as it sounds.)
So let’s jump right in.
Maryland officials deciding whether to treat opioid addiction with marijuana
With rates of opioid addiction having been at epidemic-like levels for a number of years, finding a solution to America’s heroin and painkiller problems remains a top priority for public officials. Even before former U.S. president Barack Obama instituted the Affordable Care Act — which effectively made substance abuse treatment an essential health benefit — there have been many initiatives put forth to stem the rising opioid addiction, and, consequently, overdose death rates. Some of these strategies are ones you might expect, including the allocation of additional federal funds to increasing our capacity for addiction treatment. Others, however, are a bit more unconventional, which is the case with pending legislation in Maryland.
According to reports, members of Maryland’s General Assembly have been discussing a number of potential strategies that may curb the opioid epidemic that has swept the U.S., but one particular bill on which the House of Delegates was slated to vote this week would make marijuana an approved drug for use in certain types of medication-assisted opioid addiction treatment.
As the bill exists currently, the proposition is to include “opioid use disorder” as one of the medical conditions for which medicinal marijuana can be prescribed. The idea behind the legislation is to include a substitute for drugs like methadone and suboxone that may aid with the detoxification process or be used to help individuals kick their opioid addictions. Since marijuana is not considered addictive in the conventional sense, it follows that the use of marijuana — particularly for short periods of time — would entail less risk as both methadone and suboxone are known to be difficult for individuals to stop using, even when used as replacement drugs in maintenance programs.
Lisa Lowe, a representative of Heroin Action Coalition of Maryland, supports the bill, expressing her belief that we should be encouraging of any strategy that offers a means for individuals to overcome opioid addiction. Surprisingly, the bill didn’t originally address opioid addiction. In fact, the legislation that would approve medicinal marijuana for use in opioid addiction treatment is actually an amendment to another bill that was meant to clarify legislation surrounding medical marijuana laws in Maryland; the prospect of using marijuana for opioid addiction as added to the bill after the fact, but the idea seems to be gaining traction despite being somewhat controversial, much like medication-assisted treatment and replacement therapy in general.
Of course, the fact that the bill is up for a vote doesn’t mean it will be approved. Even if the bill passes as is, it would be a long road ahead before medicinal marijuana was actually being used in opioid addiction treatment. In the meantime, there are naturally a number of officials who oppose the bill, citing a lack of evidence to support the use of medicinal marijuana as a treatment for opioid addiction.
We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled as we continue to monitor the situation.
President Trump launches commission to combat opioid abuse/addiction
It’s estimated that 91 Americans die from opioid drug overdose every single day, which is certainly the inspiration behind the commission launched by our new president, Donald Trump. According to reports, President Trump has signed an executive order to create the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The specific purpose of President Trump’s new commission is to study the steps taken by lawmakers and public officials to combat the drug addiction and opioid epidemic as well as to determine the steps that they can take to alleviate the problem.
Notably, the committee seems to be President Trump’s way of remaining faithful to promises he made while on the campaign trail when he said he would “take action to keep drugs from pouring into the country and to help those who have been so badly affected by them.”
The committee will be chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who will play a dominant role in the panel’s efforts in the hope of finding ways to protect the American people from the looming threat of the addiction epidemic. Per the executive order, the committee will be specifically charged with (1) identifying existing federal funds used to combat drug addiction and the opioid crisis; (2) assessing the availability and accessibility of treatment services and overdose reversal throughout the country; (3) reporting on best practices for addiction prevention; and (4) evaluating existing federal programs to prevent and treat drug addiction.
Now that the committee has been created, it has been given 90 days to submit a report to President Trump with preliminary evaluations and interim recommendations on ways the federal government can mitigate the opioid epidemic.
Addiction leads to other addictions
As we all know, addiction is a brain disease characterized by both structural and functional changes in the brain. With the continued introduction of mind-altering chemicals to the brain over a prolonged period of time, the brain undergoes lasting changes that constitute the brain-disease aspects of addiction. The neurological changes that occur as addiction develops has been a huge motivation for continued addiction research so that we can better understand some of the other ways — beyond the effects resulting from substance abuse — that addiction affects the brain. For instance, the ways that addiction changes patterns of thought, personality, memory and learning, and so on.
There’s something else that we’ve learned about addiction from research, and that’s that virtually all types of addiction take root in the same areas of the brain and have many of the same effects on human neurology and psychology. As a result, there’s a high degree of overlap between addictions, making it extremely easy for a person who has become addicted to one substance to become addicted to another. In fact, that’s precisely what the evidence is showing: Once a person becomes addicted, he or she is much more likely to develop other addictions. It’s very similar to how the child of an alcoholic or drug addict is nine times more likely to become addicted than his or her peers who don’t have addicted parents.
It’s something that we don’t often think about when it comes to addiction. In most cases, we see when someone has become addicted to a substance and start focusing on how they can overcome that addiction; however, the evidence also shows that many of the effects of addiction can be mitigated through abstinence. On the other hand, the increased susceptibility to addictions is not something that is mitigated with abstinence. Due to the neurological changes the brain incurs from addiction, the increase in susceptibility to addiction is essentially permanent.
Of course, this is just another piece of the puzzle that is addiction. Although we have a much better understanding of addiction than we’ve ever had before, we continue learning more crucial details about the disease, filling in the blanks that will allow us to develop better and more effective treatments and prevention strategies.