Today, on the House floor, Representative Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) addressed the serious opioid abuse epidemic across America, highlighting medical marijuana as an alternative to highly addictive prescription opioids in treating chronic pain. In his remarks, Representative Blumenauer called for further reforms to our medical marijuana laws, including making sure our Veterans - who are frequently prescribed opioids - are able to discuss medical marijuana as an alternative treatment option with their Veterans Administration providers in states where it is legal. On February 3, 2015, Representative Blumenauer reintroduced H.R. 667, the Veterans Equal Access Act, to address this and will once again offer it as an amendment during consideration of the FY 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill this year.
To follow are Representative Blumenauer's remarks as prepared. Click here to watch.
"Last night, 'Frontline' on PBS had a compelling documentary on the opioid and heroin epidemic. We're now seeing politicians diving in - governors across the country sounding the alarm. It's being featured by presidential candidates of both parties.
"President Obama's budget has some very good suggestions highlighting tools to reduce drug use and overdose, evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, and prescription take-back events. There are a variety of things that are going in the right direction.
"Yet, it's a little frustrating for me that the simplest, cheapest, safest solution to help these troubled people is not embraced: medical marijuana.
"Actually, the public is largely there. For the last 20 years, the tide has been turning for medical marijuana, even as the opioid crisis has slowly started to take hold. It began with voters in California in 1996, in Oregon two years later. Now 23 states have legalized medical marijuana, and two-thirds of Americans live in states where at least some form of medical marijuana is approved.
"There's a reason for it. A meta-analysis of 79 studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association found solid evidence that medical marijuana is effective in treating chronic pain. There's no evidence of serious side effects among medical marijuana users, who are actually less likely to drink or take other pain killers - and those states with medical marijuana actually have fewer overdose deaths.
"Isn't this worth exploring - especially when there's evidence that medical marijuana dispensaries are associated with a significant decrease in substance abuse admissions and a reduction in opioid overdose deaths.
"Recently, we've even had former NFL players come out and describe how they used medical marijuana to self-medicate, rather than being shot up with painkillers by team doctors and being prescribed opioid pills.
"What is perhaps most frustrating for me is our wrong-headed approach that prohibits Veterans Administration doctors from even talking to their patients about medical marijuana in the states where it's legal. That's ironic because the VA has its own veterans' health crisis because their patients are dying from prescription overdoses at rates twice the national average.
"Opioid prescriptions by VA doctors have surged 270 percent over the last 12 years. They are prescribing significantly more opioids to patients with PTSD and depression than other veterans, even though those patients are the most at risk of overdose and suicide. Of the nearly 1 million veterans who receive opioid treatment for pain, over half continue to consume those pills beyond 90 days.
"It's clear that most veterans would probably be better off if we more fully utilized medical marijuana to treat conditions of pain, depression, and PTSD. At the very least, we ought to allow the Veterans Administration doctors to work with their patients on this matter.
"That's why I will again be introducing my amendment that would make it clear that VA doctors, in states where it's legal, can discuss medical marijuana as a treatment option with their patients. Since I first introduced this legislation, I've watched growing support on the floor of the House for an amendment that would accomplish this. There's been interest in the Senate, and veterans groups are aware of this discrimination - despite the VA's sorry record when it comes to helping our veterans with these chronic conditions using conventional pain killers that lead to addiction and death.
"Medical marijuana appears safer, effective, and a low-cost way to deal with chronic pain. Nobody dies from an overdose of medical marijuana. Let's add medical marijuana to our discussion, promote more effective research, and let VA doctors meet with their patients to talk about this as an alternative."
Source: Congressman Earl Blumenauer's Office