Is medical marijuana an alternative?
That’s because narcotic abuse is rapidly becoming out of control, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2011 – the most recent year for which data has been released – 16,917 people died from drug poisoning involving opioid painkillers. The report revealed that, one person dies every 19 minutes from a prescription-drug overdose, fueled mainly by opioids.
Even the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is concerned, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, the DEA may consider switching hydrocodone-combination products like Lortab and Vicodin from schedule III to schedule II to help curb abuse and encourage patients and prescribers to consider alternative ways to deal with pain.
So, is medical marijuana an alternative to these potentially habit-forming and addictive drugs?
Experts say medical marijuana may pose some benefits to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy by stimulating appetite and controlling nausea and vomiting. Marijuana is not a viable alternative for pain management. The drug is only effective in select patients following appropriate discussion with their physicians, according to a well-known Chicago surgical oncologist.
“My patients experience pain related to their surgery and require pain medication for several days after the operation,” says Dr. Adam Riker, medical director, Cancer Institute and surgical oncologist, at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “If used properly, hydrocodone and other narcotics are very effective for controlling pain in this setting. Most patients do not have issues with addiction.”
In September 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported instituting class-wide safety labeling changes for all extended-release and long-acting narcotic painkillers. The FDA also added provider education on both pain management and substance abuse for these opioid analgesics through a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS) plan.
According to Dr. Riker the “DEA, CDC and FDA began examining the use, overuse and abuse of narcotics many years ago. A few key facts emerged from all of the in-depth studies analyzing the abuse of narcotics in the United States. There is a current public health crisis regarding prescription painkiller (narcotic) overdoses, particularly the abuse of hydrocodone.”
However, alternatives to these opioids are available. They range from non-narcotic medications such as tramadol, to less addictive and habit-forming narcotics like acetaminophen, codeine and ibuprofen. However, Dr. Riker emphasizes the importance of patients discussing pain-control issues with their physician, including whether or not to use narcotics or seek alternative medications.
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