A 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that nearly 5 million Americans have tried heroin. Nearly three-fourths (73%) of past-year heroin users are between the ages of 18 and 34.
According to a recent report by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), heroin use and overdose deaths are increasing rapidly in the United States.
A leading cause of the increase in heroin use and related overdoses has been the more widespread use of prescription opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycontin. The CDC reports that “45 percent of people who have used heroin were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.”
The medical use of marijuana is relevant to this problem because marijuana as a therapeutic provides a safe alternative to the use of prescription opioid pain relief drugs. Marijuana has proven pain-relief properties, however, unlike opiates, marijuana does not affect the medulla (the part of the brain that controls heart rate and breathing).
The impact of opioid drugs on the medulla is generally what causes overdose deaths from heroin. Increased access to medical marijuana could help reduce the overuse, abuse and fatalities causing this latest epidemic in both opioid prescription drug and heroin use.