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Veterans fight for medical marijuana to overcome opioid addiction

War veteran Ryan Miller got his leg destroyed and stomach badly damaged when a projectile exploded during the Iraq War. Since then he has been trapped in an unending series of surgeries and strong opioids to cope with the resulting pain and trauma. Over time, physical dependence on opioids coupled with post-surgical pain took a toll on his overall well-being.

Army veteran Joshua Renschler gave his testimony before the Congress that he relied on a combination of 13 different opioids to cope with severe back pain after a mortar blast in Iraq. In fact, doctors kept prescribing more painkillers to address the pain and side-effects arising from earlier medicines. He insists that doctors need to spend sufficient time with patients to develop more customized treatments to manage pain.

Miller and Renschler are among the 60 percent of soldiers returning from deployments in the war-torn regions of the Middle East, who are caught in the opioid crisis. In fact, according to a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study, veterans face a double-edged threat as they are twice more likely to succumb to accidental opioid overdoses than civilians. Though the VA has taken some measures to deal with the problem, the number of veterans with opioid addiction continues to grow. According to an official data, 68,000 veterans — about 13 percent of the total veterans population in the country – are currently taking opioids to assuage their chronic pain.

Many activists and veterans have come forward to combat the rising opioid crisis. Former Navy SEAL Nick Etten believes that medical marijuana can be an alternative to addictive opioid painkillers. “Veterans and a lot of patients across the country are finding, especially as it relates to chronic pain, that cannabidiol (CBD)-based products are working very effectively. They’re obviously much safer and less addictive than anything in the realm of opiates,” said Etten, who has founded the Veterans Cannabis Project.

Similarly, Miller is of the opinion that the healing powers of cannabis is invaluable to veterans. He is now associated with Operation EVAC, an organization that holds meetings where veterans get to know about the benefits of medical marijuana and meditation. After hitting their rock bottom, many veterans come to EVAC meetings that are organized at marijuana dispensaries in the Bay Area and Sacramento.

Seeking treatment for addiction

Either it be marijuana or prescription opioids, both are addictive substances. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription drugs and heroin) quadrupled since 1999. Also, more than half a million people died due to drug overdoses from 2000 to 2015. On the other hand, nearly 4 million Americans aged 12 or older in 2016 had a marijuana use disorder in the past year. Perhaps, that’s why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has neither recognized nor approved the medicinal value of marijuana. It continues to be categorized as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act because of high potential for abuse and the absence of any known therapeutic benefit. Either way, one addictive drug cannot serve as a remedy to wean an individual addicted to another substance.

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM), millions battle chronic pain each year leading to a phenomenal surge in health care and rehabilitation costs and a steady decline in productivity. The need of the hour is to acknowledge the chronic pain problem in the country and realize that the very opioid painkillers, once considered to be beneficial, are actually fueling addiction. Efforts must be made to save lives by expanding medical access to those who suffer from opioid or marijuana use disorder.

The only way to break free from the stronghold of any addictive substance is to seek professional detox at a world-class rehab to reverse the destructive effects of the drug. If you or your loved one is battling addiction to any harmful substance, get in touch with the 24/7 Recovery Helpline that offers drug abuse help through live chat. Call at our helpline number (855) 441-4405 for more information. You can also connect with us using our drug addiction help online chat to know about the most effective treatment programs in your vicinity.

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