Sixty-four thousand people died of opioid overdoses last year. Tens of thousands of them could have been spared if not for decisions deliberately made by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The opioid epidemic is highly publicized at this point, with the White House recently declaring it a national emergency. While such nonsuperficial attempts at addressing the problem are lovely gestures of goodwill, they are somewhat overshadowed by the fact that the issue they purport to be concerned with is a direct consequence of decisions made by an agency of the federal government, and that the epidemic only continues to exist due to their deliberate efforts.
To be very clear, the opioid epidemic is a man-made plague, not a natural one. It’s the predictable consequence of the DEA abusing its powers in order to give opioids an effective monopoly and deny people access to superior products.
The opioid epidemic could end tomorrow if the government were simply to renege on the policies that led to its genesis — but that isn’t going to happen, and a lot of people are going to die as a direct result.
There is an indisputable solution to the opioid epidemic — stop deliberately mislabeling marijuana as a Schedule I drug. That’s it.
Here’s some background into the specifics of how the government goes about denying people access to medicine that would save lives. First, the government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Schedule I drugs are drugs that must fit two qualifications: they must have “no currently accepted medical use” and must have a “high potential for abuse.”
The first of these qualifications unambiguously precludes marijuana from being a Schedule I drug. It is, at the absolute least, accepted as a treatment for certain varieties of childhood epilepsy at this point.
While that’s far from its only use, simply having any type of accepted medical usage blatantly violates the exclusionary clause that serves as first qualifier of Schedule I drugs.
Additionally, marijuana is far less addictive than several Schedule II drugs like cocaine. Marijuana is wrongly classified as a Schedule I drug, and it’s not like the DEA doesn’t know this.
The Department of Health and Human Services recently requested that the DEA reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug, a move that would remove federal restrictions on its medicinal usage. They declined without explanation.
A 2013 study of the 17 states with medical marijuana laws found that, compared to states without them, the average doctor prescribed over 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers each year in states with medical marijuana laws.
A separate study, which evaluated 13 states where medical marijuana was legalized, found that legalizing medical marijuana resulted in a 33 percent decrease in deaths by opioid overdose. The data on this is not ambiguous — allowing people access to medicinal THC will save lives.
The uncomfortable truth is that the DEA effectively created the opioid epidemic by labeling marijuana a Schedule I drug, giving opioids a monopoly on the market for painkillers. That could have been a mistake.
However, after it was made indisputable that their classification was wrong and that correcting for their error could save lives, they are still actively refusing to reschedule marijuana.
The point where the DEA chose to continue wrongly classifying marijuana was when the DEA transitioned from having a passive responsibility for the epidemic to an active role in maintaining it. Let’s call this what it is. This is effectively mass murder by the DEA.
Taylor Falter is an undeclared sophomore.
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