Lawmakers Press Trump Health Official On Marijuana As Opioid Alternative

A bipartisan group of members of Congress is pushing the Trump administration to consider medical marijuana as a safer alternative to opioids.

“As you know, our country is grappling with an opioid epidemic that is now taking 91 lives every single day,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Acting Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Eric D. Hargan. “Recent studies published by qualified academic researchers suggest that marijuana may prove to be a useful alternative treatment for chronic pain instead of harmful, addictive prescription opioids, and that marijuana may reduce the overall number of opioid overdose deaths.”
After citing a number of studies demonstrating cannabis’s efficacy and that legal marijuana access is associated with reduced opioid issues, the House members lay out a series of questions they want answered:
The evidence that marijuana may have a positive therapeutic warrants additional attention from the federal government. We request that you provide answers to the following questions:
1. Please describe in detail what the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is doing to fill the gap in our knowledge about the use, uptake, and effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal.
a. Please describe in detail any federal efforts to conduct research the impact of state medical and recreational marijuana laws on opioid overdose deaths.
b. Please also describe in detail efforts by other federal agencies under the jurisdiction of HHS.
2. Please describe in detail what HHS and other federal agencies are doing to work with states that have implemented medical marijuana laws to collect data on the impact of these laws on opioid overdose deaths.
3. Is HHS committed to implementing evidence-based policies regarding the use of medical marijuana as an alternative pain treatment in an effort to promote public health?
4. Is HHS committed to making any research on the therapeutic benefits of marijuana available to states including as a more benign alternative to opioids for pain management, so that they can implement evidence-based policies to address the opioid epidemic?
5. Please describe in detail any ongoing efforts to share this research on marijuana’s potential as an alternative pain treatment to addictive and dangerous prescription medications with other federal agencies, including but not limited to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Department of Justice.
“We should not ignore any information that suggests there may be a tool available to fight the opioid epidemic that we are not using to the fullest extent,” the legislators conclude in the letter, which is dated Tuesday. “While it is clear that more research is necessary, it is equally clear that medical marijuana is an alternative pain treatment that merits the attention of the federal government.”
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) posted a series of tweets about the issue on Thursday evening.
: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Members of Congress Call on @HHSGov to Allow Research of Medical Marijuana as Pain Management Alternative to Opioids http://bit.ly/2ADFtZZ 
As the opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities across the country, we must pursue every available path to prevent, treat, and ultimately end America’s reliance on these highly addictive drugs.
In  alone, hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and opioid-related deaths have doubled over the last decade. Studies have found a correlation in states that have legalized medical marijuana with a drop in addiction rates and opioid abuse deaths, some by over 20%.
With 91 lives lost every single day to the opioid epidemic, Acting Secretary Hargan should immediately authorize additional research into medical marijuana as an alternative treatment to urgently address this opioid crisis.

The letter comes amid increasingly prominent discussion about marijuana’s potential to reduce opioid overdoses. The federal government’s top health research official was asked about the topic in two separate Senate hearings this week.
Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent questions about marijuana and opioids to Alex Azar, President Trump’s nominee for HHS secretary.

See the full text of the House lawmakers’ new letter below:

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