Is medical marijuana an alternative?

Is medical marijuana an alternative?

For some patients, doctor-prescribed painkillers may simply lead to more pain.

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.

Research shows that Vicodin, which is a hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen tends to be highly habit-forming and addictive when not used as prescribed.

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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One Comment

  1. My girlfriend’s grandmother has advanced rheumatoid arthritis. Advanced to the point where both hands are crippled, her mobility is severely hampered, and she endures constant full body pain every single day. She is not getting cured; there are no delusions about that, so we all realize that this is a management situation. Management of pain and of disease progression. The medications, pain mostly, are long past the point of being effective and additional dosage has such a high chance of liver failure that her doctor declines to increase it. However, she has already had to do a round of dialysis because of kidney damage, due again presumably from the medications. If ever there was a person who could benefit from an edible, pain reducing, appetite increasing, and hell why not feel better prescription…this would be the person. To even believe that a drug like Vicodin is less regulated than pot is laughable to anyone who understands chemistry. Well respected doctors need to start sticking their necks out and put their patients’ healthcare before some misguided moral stance. History, medical history especially, is going look as harshly on this situation as we do on the psyc wards of the past performing non-consenting lobotomies. In some words…not kindly.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.