Opioids, Marijuana, and Money

Opioids and marijuana. Two drugs. Each have physiological effects when ingested into the body. Each have pain-relieving medical properties. In the United States, one is legal and one is not. Opioids remain legal and heavily used by the public, while medical marijuana remains illegal in most states and is heavily targeted as a concern to the public. This relationship may seem commonplace to many readers, as society has accepted Marijuana to be a dangerous substance and opioids to be an important medicinal drug, but is it truly appropriate for each drug to be labeled as such? The reasons for this are not quite as simple as the drug itself, as there is a whole list of outside factors that contribute to the legalization, production, and usage of one, and the elicit, negatively-viewed state of the other — a lot of which has to do with the monetary gain from sticking to the status quo. Pharmaceutical companies, the manufacturers of pain-killing drugs, serve as a great example of the conflict of interest regarding marijuana and opioids, and the true reason one drug is legal while the other is not. Ultimately, the actions of many pharmaceutical companies contradict what they say they stand for, and in reality, their agenda is more about the money then truly eliminating drug abuse or providing patients with optimal treatment.
In order to understand the extent at which pharmaceutical companies neglect their patients as they continue making money, it is important to look at the opioid crisis in the United States. Prescription drug abuse is a huge issue in America at the moment, and the statistics are outright frightening. There are “more than 16,000 deaths annually linked to opioid addiction and overdose” (Fang, par. 5). People in our country consume more than 84 percent of the worldwide supply of oxycodone and nearly one hundred percent of hydrocodone opioids (Fang, par. 6). What’s worse, the fight against substance abuse is “completely underfunded, badly splintered, overwhelmed” (Massing, par. 2), and simply not taken as a priority by those who can help stop it. It is important to understand that the more pain-killers are sold, the more money pharmaceutical companies make, so it is no question as to why these companies are not making a real effort to decrease substance abuse — or even acknowledge it. In addition, these companies often over-prescribe their painkillers, making potential addiction that much easier. To put it into perspective, in a small English class at the University of Georgia, four students admitted to receiving an unnecessary amount of painkillers after surgery or an injury, addictive drugs that now sit in their cabinets at home. This is a scary reality, considering how nonchalantly these drugs are being handed out, and how severe the opioid epidemic is at the moment.

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It is clear that there is a severe issue at hand regarding opioid-abusers in this country, but pharmaceutical companies see another, more costly, concern. Pharmaceutical companies, the manufacturers of these opioids, advocate against drug abuse and donate large amounts to anti-drug organizations. One would think that this means pharmaceutical firms recognize the deadly issue at hand and are working to prevent it, but that is not the case. There is a specific drug that is being targeted, and it has nothing to do with the opioid epidemic, it is marijuana. As an example, CADCA (Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America), one of the largest opponents to marijuana legalization, is sponsored by Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin (Fang, par. 7). Regardless of their reasoning, Pharmaceutical companies have a negative view of marijuana and support keeping it illegal. However, the reasons behind this, at least the reasons given to the public, are quite simple — marijuana is a dangerous drug. CADCA argues that marijuana can “pose significant dangers, from increased crime and juvenile delinquency to addiction and death” (Fang, par. 11). Not only is marijuana just a concern, but it is labeled as the primary concern. Ultimately, it seems appropriate for any organization or individual, including pharmaceutical firms, to denounce a drug that can cause harm, but is it right to focus so heavily on a drug that can have medical benefits and is not directly responsible for thousands of deaths each year?
Despite all of the target efforts against Marijuana legalization, there are many organizations that support medical Marijuana and the medical benefits that it does posses, and in the wake of an opioid epidemic like the nation is currently experiencing, it is important to look at these aspects of marijuana. Marijuana can have similar medical effects as opioids, such as “reducing nausea… reducing pain and inflammation, controlling epileptic seizures, and possibly even treating mental illness” (NIDA, par. 9). In addition, there have been several studies done that suggest medical marijuana could decrease opioid addiction and overdose (NIDA, par. 5). Although there is not enough evidence yet to confirm this finding (partly because research on marijuana is prohibited most places), it should not be so easily brushed off. Medical marijuana has potential benefits, but it continues to be targeted and subject to misconception by many companies and organizations.

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After examining the opioid crisis in the country, as well as the stance Pharmaceutical companies have regarding Marijuana as the primary drug-related concern, it is evident that their actions are contradictory to the message they send to the public about drug abuse and prevention. These firms serve as the monetary backbone for organizations preventing marijuana law-reform, and yet they neglect the greatest drug-related issue in the country, an issue that happens to be directly connected with the prescription drugs they produce. Their true intentions lie not with preventing drug abuse, even though they sponsor many anti-drug organizations, but with preventing marijuana from becoming legal and continuing to sell large amounts of their own medicinal drugs. Society is being cast in a direction that leads us to believe that marijuana is the primary concern, but this is misinformation at the hands of those who have a financial stake in keeping marijuana illegal. If the number one priority was the patient, wouldn’t these pharmaceutical companies be open to exploring the medical benefits of Marijuana? Because there are clear medical benefits. Or, wouldn’t these companies be more cautious when prescribing their painkillers? Wouldn’t they work to prevent or at least acknowledge the crisis regarding prescription drug abuse? No, of course not, because their priority is not with the patients exact medical needs. Instead, they use their energy and resources to slyly support organizations such as CADCA, which both keeps medical marijuana from competing as a pain-reliever and allows them to continue selling, and often overprescribing, their own product.
Ultimately, it seems the reason opioids are legal, heavily manufactured and used, and medical marijuana not, is more about the money than the actual effects or dangers of the drugs (which the public is lead to believe). Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the patients, who are likely not being prescribed the optimal amount or type of drug, and prescription drug abusers, who continue to suffer as pharmaceutical firms intentionally focus on less-important matters. It is a sad reality that companies who create products to help people act more in self-interest then for those they are trying to help, especially when thousands of Americans are dying each year. This is apparent with pharmaceutical firms, but it is likely a microcosm of a bigger picture. Most people would like to believe that society’s collective health and happiness is the number one priority of all companies and organizations who provide for them, but in reality, self-interest and money play the largest part in many decisions. Hopefully, one day, we can differentiate the information we are given between fact and fiction, and conflicts of interest don’t prevent misinformation or bias decisions by companies or organizations that affect the wellbeing of society.

Works Cited

Fang, Lee. “The Real Reason Pot Is Still Legal.” The Nation, 2 July 2014,
https://www.thenation.com/article/anti-pot-lobbys-big-bankroll/

Massing, Michael. “The Real Scandal In The Fight Against Opioids.” PoliticoMagazine, 21 July 2018, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/07/21/opioids-treatment-politicians- media-219023

NIDA. “Marijuana as Medicine.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 27 Jun. 2018, https:// www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana-medicine.

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