medical marijuana

Oregon Not Exempt from National Opioid Epidemic and Its Painful Price

The opioid crisis is not some distant national epidemic. It affects Oregon communities and families every day. Addressing the opioid crisis will require more than bumper sticker policies, especially for the people hooked on painkillers because of excruciating chronic pain.

The opioid crisis is not some distant national epidemic. It affects Oregon communities and families every day. Addressing the opioid crisis will require more than bumper sticker policies, especially for the people hooked on painkillers because of excruciating chronic pain.

Opioid addiction is a national epidemic, but its toll is actually exacted at the local and family level. Just ask Oregonians who live in a state ranked with the sixth worst drug problem in the nation.

If you want to see the opioid epidemic up close, you don’t have to book a flight to Appalachia. Oregon ranks fourth for teenage drug abusers. And, Oregon ranks first, according to federal data, for older adults hospitalized for opioid-related issues.

"We have a massive problem," Mark Kruger, a 23-year veteran who is now a captain with the Portland Police Bureau’s drugs and vice division, told KATU-TV. "We're seizing larger quantities of methamphetamine and heroin and cocaine in Portland than we have historically ever seized."

Now there is a new threat from street fentanyl, which is an opiate on steroids, available online and often a one-way ticket to the morgue. "Children now can buy fentanyl on the dark web using bitcoins for currency and they can overdose in their own bedrooms on a substance that no one really knew about a couple of years ago," Kruger said.

This is shocking news for many Oregonians who imagine they live far from the madding crowd. Like many other American communities, we live in ground zero of a drug epidemic.

That reality is painful for Oregonians who were blazing a trail through a pair of ballot measures in the 1990s that weighed “death with dignity” measures with the shortcomings of pain management. Medical practitioners admitted they were negligent in recognizing the pain endured by terminally ill patients. Doctors kept their word and found ways to curb pain, not just for the terminally ill, but also for those suffering from numbing chronic pain.

"Painkiller misuse in Oregon is higher than the national average, especially in the 18 to 25 age group, as an average of three Oregonians die every week from prescription opioid overdoses.”     https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/heroin-pain-reliever-misuse-prevalence-estimates-vs-apgar-cissp/?trackingId=qd4s4%2F4T3QpBJPvIJ2xioQ%3D%3D

"Painkiller misuse in Oregon is higher than the national average, especially in the 18 to 25 age group, as an average of three Oregonians die every week from prescription opioid overdoses.”  

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/heroin-pain-reliever-misuse-prevalence-estimates-vs-apgar-cissp/?trackingId=qd4s4%2F4T3QpBJPvIJ2xioQ%3D%3D

But it wasn’t enough. In 1998, Oregonians voted to allow the use of doctor-recommended medical marijuana, ostensibly for pain related to cancer treatment, but often for men and women suffering from work-related back pain. Twenty years later, Oregonians are still auditioning painkillers, from heroin to a synthetic version of anesthesia.

A common temptation is to hang the drug dealer from the highest tree. However, that overlooks the demand side of the equation. Many people hooked on opioids and other painkillers aren’t looking for a thrill; they are trying to find a way to get through the day without debilitating pain.

Like a lot of complex problems without simple solutions, drug addiction has many contributors. There are the thrill-seekers. There are people who think life is better when they are high. But there are a whole lot of people who just want to get through an afternoon without excruciating pain.

Prescription drugs are in the cross-hairs of lots of politicians because of high prices and increasing levels of addiction. The coziness between doctors and drug companies has come under scrutiny. So has over-prescribing of painkillers and flimsy rationale for medical marijuana cards. Recreational use of drugs has blurred with medical use. The financial opportunities for legal and illegal distribution of drugs makes the mix even more lethal.

The proximity of the opioid problem to Oregon communities should provoke empathy and kindle an instinct for nuanced responses. People who get hooked on drugs for fun is one problem. People who get hooked on drugs to dull pain is another. Both require human responses, not criminal indictments. A nuanced response may require people to accept approaches and practices they otherwise would reject out of hand.

Hopefully as a civilization we have advanced beyond dealing with contagion by burning the bodies. The men, women and children afflicted by drug addiction deserve something better. They deserve policies that strike at the root of addiction, not the symptoms.

Statistics can be barren and devoid of sympathy. But statistics also arouse human instincts that people are in pain. We need to find a way to ease that pain without addiction. It is an assignment Oregonians have debated for decades, and now it’s time to do the homework and hand in a winning essay.

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Dale Penn II is a partner and leader of the CFM’s state affairs team. He has been deeply involved in government relations and regulatory affairs in Oregon for more than 12 years and was active on behalf of a range of clients in the 2018 Oregon legislative session.

 

The Process of Regulating Pot

Marijuana edibles are just one of the significant differences and public health challenges facing regulators in Oregon who now regulate liquor.

Marijuana edibles are just one of the significant differences and public health challenges facing regulators in Oregon who now regulate liquor.

With voter approval of marijuana use comes the challenge of regulating it. Liquor regulation provides important precedents, but may not go far enough.

There will be similarities in regulating where marijuana can be sold, requiring accurate labels and preventing sales to minors.

But marijuana poses other challenges that have been highlighted by people knee-deep in developing original regulation in Colorado and elsewhere. For example, the amount of alcohol and its effect on individual adults can be roughly calculated arithmetically. That may be less true of the potency of different types of marijuana.

Marijuana edibles represent a significant challenge. Candy is sold with small amounts of liquor, but they convey far less of a potential jolt than a marijuana cookie, which is designed to transport the buzz offered by marijuana.

Another unique challenge is how to integrate the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana with recreational marijuana .

Rachel O'Bryan, cofounder of Smart Colorado, a nonprofit formed to weigh in on marijuana regulation, wrote in an op-ed in The Sunday Oregonian that someone who represents public health concerns, especially for youth, must be at the table writing rules for Oregon. She wrote: 

"Provisions that likely would not have existed but for Smart Colorado included: potency and contaminate testing; health warnings and a universal marijuana symbol; childproof packaging; per-serving and per-package THC limits; and restrictions on marketing and advertising targeted at youth." 

The backdrop for the regulation of marijuana is not law enforcement versus recreational drug users. Legalized marijuana is a hot new product category that financiers and corporate interests are pursuing. They will be the big rollers in the room when rules are discussed and their motivation, O'Bryan says, will be to sell product and turn a profit.

Oregon is a so-called "control" state for distilled spirits. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission sets the rules, with a strong influence from a constituency that includes groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which counterbalance pressure from liquor manufacturers, liquor agents and others who would like to sell liquor. O'Bryan argues a similar constituency will be needed to keep marijuana regulation in balance.

Deregulating Booze; Regulating Pot

The current tight regulation of alcohol and prohibition of marijuana may no longer reflect majority public sentiment leaning in Oregon, pointing to some combination of legislative and ballot measure action as early as next year.

At the center of this changing landscape is the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), which may see part of its job slip while picking up a whole new portfolio of regulation. The OLCC is an agency in the midst of its own transition, with a new chair, Rob Patridge, and a newly nominated executive director, Steve Marks. Both have strong ties to Governor Kitzhaber, who can be expected at some point to weigh in on these countervailing directions.

Oregonians have voted on marijuana measures before. In 1998, Oregon voters approved the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, allowing patients to use marijuana for an expanding range of medical conditions. Following the implementation of the medical marijuana act, Oregon legislators moved to decriminalize possession and use of small amounts of marijuana.

In 2012, despite pressure from national interest groups to take a more balanced approach, Oregon advocates placed the most liberal marijuana possession and legalization framework in the country on the Oregon ballot. Despite its failure, recent polling still shows that more than 60 percent of Oregonians favor a “legalize and tax it” strategy on marijuana. 

Today, three ballot measures addressing marijuana legalization are approved for circulation. This reality led Rep. Phil Barnhart (D-Eugene) to tell The Oregonian he was unimpressed with people who use marijuana, but if legislators didn’t figure out a solution to combat the failure of the prohibition of the drug, activists would. And, Oregonians would regret the outcome.