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  • Alec Chenkus

How The Opioid Crisis Hurts Ohioans, And Why Medical Marijuana May Help

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

This latest blog comes from Ohio Marijuana Card's own Alec Chenkus, Senior Marketing Outreach Coordinator.

Alec's passion for combating the opioid crisis knows no bounds. He has been an advocate for medical marijuana for many years, and focuses his passions on writing and continuing education of medical marijuana, and pushing for better regulations to help Ohioans get off opioids.

8 people a day died from a drug overdose in the state of Ohio –an average of a drug overdose death every 172 minutes. Last year, the drug overdose deaths rose to 13 drug overdose deaths per day, or roughly every 111 minutes.

Ohio's Most Notorious Serial Killer

As a journalism student at John Carroll, I had the opportunity to work on various different stories that impact Ohioans. None of those stories carried quite the gravitas as my research of the opioid and heroin epidemic that plagued, and continues to do catastrophic damage, to families throughout the Buckeye State. This story, which I studied for 3 months, impassioned and motivated me to get involved in Ohio’s blossoming medical marijuana program.

The continually growing opioid and heroin crisis in Ohio - which truly began to take hold of the state in 2007 - does not discriminate based on sex, race, nor class. It kills without remorse, and with little fanfare. One misstep or accident and a patient is gone forever.

The problem of addiction spreads from rural areas in the state like Hamilton County, to urban cities like Akron, to suburban cities like Independence, and even to the exurban areas like Lakewood. Due to the nature of the epidemic, it requires cooperation between local, county, state, and even federal agencies in order to provide effective support and relief, which has been noticeably lacking.

Disturbingly, since I first covered this story, the death toll has been compounded as the introduction of fentanyl in supply chains has had a dramatic effect on the rate of overdose. According to the 2015 data, 8 people a day died from a drug overdose in the state of Ohio – an average of a drug overdose death every 2 hours and 52 minutes. Last year, the drug overdose deaths rose to 13 drug overdose deaths per day, or roughly every 1 hour and 51 minutes.

Although the national rate of drug overdose deaths has been increasing alongside Ohio’s numbers, Ohio has painfully been dealing with an exacerbated rate of drug abuse compared to other states. For example, at the time of my initial story Ohio was ranked fifth in the country with 24.6 drug overdose deaths per 100,000; as of last year, Ohio ranked second in the country with 46.3 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 – this is an incredibly alarming spike in overdose deaths.

The Cannabis Solution

For Ohioans, this has resulted in broken families and lost loved ones. When I first wrote this article, I saw optimistic data from other states that offered the catalyst of support for struggling individuals: medical marijuana.

At the low end of projections, the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine, has found that in states with medical marijuana dispensaries there was a 14.4 percent reduction in the use of prescription opioids, while the American Academy of Pain Medicine found about a 25 percent lower rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths on average. In 2010 alone, states with legalized medical marijuana saw approximately 1,700 fewer opiate-related overdose deaths.

Cynics will argue that these individuals would simply be replacing one drug with another. While that may technically be true, the overdose statistics related to medical marijuana paint a larger picture. Since its documented introduction in 2727 B.C, there has not been a single overdose death attributed directly to the use of marijuana.

What the medical marijuana program in Ohio ultimately represents is hope and optimism for countless patients struggling to deal with their conditions.

To put this into perspective, I’d like to share a coworker’s personal story of struggle with prescription opiates: “My mother takes an opioid (fentanyl, he believes). If she takes her medication at 8pm, but forgets that she took it and happens to take another pill at, say, 9pm…she’s dead. Just one mistake and she’s gone forever. If you take too much cannabis, however, you will not die. You may feel ‘high’ or under the influence, but you will not suffer any long term or catastrophic physical or mental harm.”

This story rings heartbreakingly true for me, as I lost a college friend suffering from a form of brain cancer my freshman year due to what is believed to be a seizure that was associated with his medication. While my friend had been lucky enough to have access to Colorado and Michigan for medical marijuana, while we waited for Ohio to establish our own medical marijuana program, he did not have the time or access to medical marijuana, and he was required to take a medication that included seizures as a side-effect. I saw, personally, the uplifting and positive effects that medical marijuana had on his condition and daily mood.

Where opioids devastate the body, sometimes even resulting in death, cannabis does the opposite, healing in ways that are both profound and measurable. For example, one of my close friends that I grew up with was diagnosed at a young age with a Chiari brain malformation – a condition that causes chronic and severe headaches for hours, sometimes days.

He would travel frequently from Cleveland to Chicago and New York in order to meet with specialists and undergo surgeries to help ease the tension in his brain stem. On top of dealing with this condition, he also suffered from GI issues, immune system deficiency, and autonomic nervous system disorders.

Every day he would wake up and feel fatigued and in constant pain from the Chiari; for weeks at a time, we would not see him in school or even outside of school due to his health. He told me, “I began smoking marijuana senior year and that was the first year I didn’t miss weeks at a time but rather maybe a day or two here or there. It wasn’t like a miracle drug where I woke up one day and I was perfect because of it, however, it helped out big time with stuff like the chronic pain and fatigue – it brought down my average pain level consistently. Also, a big thing I overlooked, is that I woke up each day happier and was in a better mood which has (had) a tremendous impact on in recovery for long term illnesses and disorders. I would eat regular meals and stayed a lot more hydrated while smoking. I personally believe I wouldn’t have made it to my last semester in college without the use of cannabis to help with the chronic pain, daily fatigue, and overall mood and outlook on it all.”

The Future Of Cannabis And Opioids In Ohio

These testimonials are, quite naturally, anecdotal. But they each sing a similar tune sung by so many cannabis users. Medical marijuana helps. I have seen, first hand, how it can dramatically improve the health and lifestyles of suffering loved ones. In conjunction with the increasing threat of opioid abuse in Ohio, I stress the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana treatment relative to traditional prescriptions. While medical marijuana may not be the end all medication for your condition, it is an aid that can be utilized to properly feel relief without the fear of overdose.

The most frustrating part of doctors over-prescribing opioids is that the patients don’t want to be forced to face the adverse side-effects and implicit fear of overdose simply because they want to live their normal lives again. These are grandparents and parents that aren’t able to play with their (grand)kids like they used to; former athletes that suffered a single injury and lost years of their lives trying to gain control of their health again; dedicated employees working tirelessly to put food on their family’s plates while battling ailments that cripple them and force them off the job.

We need to do better for these people, and that begins with expanding education and access to medical marijuana across the State of Ohio. Thankfully, with the opioid crisis being considered for Ohio's medical marijuana program as early as June 2019, Ohioans may finally see a major drop in overdoses, and a reasonable solution to this terrible crisis may finally be on the horizon.


If you are an Ohioan suffering from one of these 21 medical conditions you may be eligible to treat your ailment with medical marijuana, which includes both THC and CBD products.

Click here to learn more about what Ohio Marijuana Card's state-certified medical marijuana doctors can do for you, or give us a call at 1-866-457-5559 and our friendly support team can walk you through the entire process, and set you up with an appointment.

Also, be sure to check out our latest episode of Ohio Marijuana Pod!


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