• Randy Shaffer

HIV Crisis in Massachusetts Related to Opioid Epidemic. Can Marijuana Help?


The opioid crisis has raged on for nearly two decades now, with death rates skyrocketing and new users getting addicted every single day, either through street drugs like heroin, or more often, through gateway prescription abuse. In October 2017, the Trump administration declared the opioid crisis a national Public Health Emergency. Since then, unfortunately, the administration has struggled to combat the growing problem. The Trump administration has, at least, created a new website where people can share stories about opioid addiction, and funds have been appropriated to health officials, but it could be too little, too late.


Opioids continue to claim more lives than any other drug overdose – and this is by no small margin! In 2017, opioids were responsible for taking the lives of roughly 60,000 Americans, nearly 5 times higher than what this figure was in 1999. Instead of opting for a safer alternative, like medical marijuana treatment for chronic pain and other difficult conditions, many doctors write blanket opioid prescriptions, furthering this vicious and deadly cycle.


Erin Schumaker over at Huffpost is now sounding the alarm about an epidemic of opioid-related HIV cases that have arisen throughout Massachusetts. In the article, Schumaker states, "Between 2015 and 2018, there were 129 new HIV cases linked to drug use in just two cities, according to preliminary results from a joint investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, from 2012 to 2014, an average of just 41 cases of HIV linked to injection drug use were diagnosed per year in the entire state of Massachusetts."


The synthetic opioid, Fentanyl, appears to be the primary culprit. According to the New York Times, Fentanyl caused 20,100 deaths in 2016, a rise of 540% over the past 3 years. This drug, which can be either prescribed by a doctor or manufactured and sold illegally, requires frequent injections, increasing the risk for users to spread HIV through needles.


Even though Massachusetts has a health system very close to universal healthcare, the opioid crisis continues to pave a deadly path, and state officials worry they are at the beginning of a very deadly trend. Recent research has shown that medical marijuana can not only help patients suffering from pain, but can also help opioid addicts beat their terrible addiction. In fact, according to this recent study, "Three states (California, Oregon, and Washington) had medical cannabis laws effective prior to 1999. Ten states (Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont) enacted medical cannabis laws between 1999 and 2010. States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate (95% CI, −37.5% to −9.5%; P = .003) compared with states without medical cannabis laws."


Researchers Amanda Reiman, Mark Welty, and Perry Solomon also conducted a survey involving nearly 3000 medical cannabis patients. Of those surveyed, 81% reported that cannabis (used alone) was more effective than cannabis combined with opioids. Furthermore, there are no known cases of death from marijuana overdose, and many argue that it's impossible to overdose from marijuana at all, making medical marijuana a safe, effective (and appealing) alternative to opioids.


In 2012, Massachusetts passed a medical marijuana law which paved the way for recreational laws, passed in 2016. Massachusetts is now one of only 8 states (and D.C.) to legalize marijuana for recreational use, with this law going into effect July, 2018. With some luck, doctors and lawmakers will soon examine the research and determine how marijuana can help combat the opioid crisis, and in doing so, reduce the overall amount opioid-related deaths, and reduce the amount of people who transmit HIV.


Heartbreakingly, too many individuals across our state of Ohio either know, or know of, at least one person who has grappled with the tremendous difficulties of opioid or heroin abuse. In my own personal life, I lost my next door neighbor to this affliction. Our state alone had the second highest death toll in the country due to opioid overdose, with 39 out of every 100,000 people losing their life (there are roughly 11.66 million residents in Ohio).

For too long the pharmaceutical and opiate industry (sometimes called Big Pharma) have made too much money from suffering patients, many of whom would qualify for and benefit from medical marijuana. The data is behind the medical marijuana industry, and so is the state of Ohio now, thanks to Ohio HB 523, which allows medical marijuana use for 21 qualifying conditions. Though treatment for opioid-related addiction is not yet a condition the state has approved, chronic pain has been approved. Thankfully, the State Medical Board of Ohio did leave the door open to add further conditions in the near future.


We at Ohio Marijuana Card are here to help potential patients find the treatment they deserve. Contact our offices to set up an appointment with a state-licensed medical marijuana doctor to begin your journey getting off of opioids and back to better, healthier holistic living.