In 2017, the state of Delaware lost 345 of its citizens to opioid-related deaths; by August of 2018, we had lost 223 citizens to the growing epidemic of opioid misuse and addiction.
Currently, there are 11,000 Delawareans struggling with addictions, with only 200 beds across the state, none of them dedicated to long-term recovery.
The issues surrounding opioid abuse in the state stretch far beyond individual citizens. Delaware has the third highest per capita health care costs in the nation from opioid abuse, costing the state $117 per person, resulting in $109 million in health care costs dedicated to opioids.
What is currently available in the way of traditional medical treatments for addictions is failing too many residents of Delaware. What the state currently has available is not enough to keep up with the growing demand for treating opioid withdrawal.
This is a growing crisis; one that must be faced head-on with innovative thinking that considers new evidence on alternative treatments, like medical cannabis, to put an end to opioid abuse in the state of Delaware and model the way for the rest of the country.
How We Got Here
In 2016, it was revealed that Delaware’s 16.9 deaths per 100,000 persons far surpassed the national rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000 persons.
Despite an increased understanding about the potential for abuse of opioid medications, health care providers in Delaware wrote 768,974 prescriptions for opioid pain relievers, equating to 80 prescriptions for every 100 persons in Delaware. By 2016, there were 154 opioid-related overdose deaths, and this number climbed to 345 in 2017. It continues to climb from the last reported number of 223.
In Delaware, Naloxone, an overdose reversal medication is distributed by health centers and is showing promise for decreasing the number of opioid-related deaths in the state, but this isn’t enough. No one should face death as a result of what has been written on a prescription pad.
Medical Cannabis as an Alternative to Opioid Abuse
While research is still emerging, recent studies have examined the relationship between medical cannabis and opioid abuse:
* A 2018 study in Vancouver published in Addiction followed drug users for a median of 81 months. The researchers associated daily cannabis use with a 21% higher likelihood for retention in opioid antagonist treatment (OAT) programs;
* A 2018 review of evidence in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research called for further research on cannabis and its role in managing opioid withdrawal. The authors base their research on the fact that traditional treatments such as methadone or buprenorphine cause negative side effects, and that there is enough supply of these medicines to keep up with growing demand. The authors suggest that cannabis therapies manage opioid withdrawal symptoms, reduce opioid consumption, ameliorate opioid cravings, prevent opioid relapse, improve OUD (opioid use disorder) treatment retention, and reduce overdose deaths;
* A 2018 study published in Addiction examined the relationship between medical cannabis programs and Medicaid spending on opioid prescriptions. The researchers concluded that medical cannabis programs contributed to a 29.6% reduction in the number of prescriptions, 29.9% reduction in dosage, and 28.8% reduction in related Medicaid spending;
* A 2018 literature review published in Harm Reduction Journal examined the issue of the substitution effect or using medical cannabis as an approach for opioid withdrawal and addiction. One featured study showed that in Michigan, medical cannabis was associated with a 64% reduction in opioid use. The review of research called for “an evidence-based rationale for governments, health care providers, and academic researchers to seek the immediate implementation of cannabis-based interventions in the opioid crisis at the regional and national level, and to subsequently assess their potential impacts on public health and safety
Medical cannabis isn’t about creating new addictions or substance abuse issues. It’s about harm reduction. Cannabis, with its many studied medicinal benefits, is a low-risk substance effective in managing withdrawal from opioids, encouraging people to stay in treatment programs, and overall reducing the number of opioids making it into the hands of Delawareans.
Medical Cannabis in Delaware
There is a noted rise in the number of Delaware citizens enrolled in the state’s medical cannabis program. By June 2016, there were approximately 1,700 active medical cards in the state; in 2017, 3,588 new registrations were added.
At present, opioid addiction is not a qualifying condition for Delaware’s Medical Marijuana Program. However recently a petition has been submitted to the Delaware Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to add opioid addition to the list of qualifying medical conditions.
The 2017 Annual Report released by DHHS acknowledged the potential for medical cannabis to reduce the use of opioids.
Where Can We Go from Here?
Advancing the medical cannabis movement, especially in light of how it can reduce the public health, social and economic impacts of the opioid crisis, needs to be taken on by dedicated champions with the solutions to change the statistics.
Genesis Integrative Health and Wellness Center, a health and wellness project currently in its infancy stages, has a mission to empower citizens within our communities to build happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives by providing access to a variety of traditional, complementary, alternative and educational resources.
The initiative is led by Kelly Williams, who is the Founder of Cannadigm Ventures, Principal Advisor for the American CBD Network, and currently serving on the Steering Committee of Helping End the Opioid Epidemic (HEOE) – a community based non-profit organization working to evaluate and design approaches for addressing the opioid epidemic. Kelly is advocating heavily in Delaware for the advancement of the petition to have opioid use disorder added as a qualifying medical condition for medical cannabis.
By creating partnerships between private organizations, non-profits, health institutions, local businesses, and government, we can bring forward the tools and solutions necessary to reverse Delaware’s opioid abuse and opioid-related death statistics and act as a leader for the nation.
Kelly Williams, owner of Cannadigm Ventures, plans to advocate heavily for its advancement at every level.