Legal Marijuana Could Help Fight Heroin Epidemic

Over the last decade and a half, heroin use has become an issue of critical concern for communities around the country. The problem has become so serious and prevalent that it is being considered a nationwide epidemic. The federal government estimates that, on average, more than 75 people die every day from opioid overdoses—a class of drug that includes heroin as well as legally prescribed painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin.

The nature of heroin addiction makes deterrent and punitive efforts by law enforcement agencies difficult at best. A new study, however, suggests that the battle against heroin and opioid abuse may be shifting in some states—and for a surprising reason. It seems that the incremental legalization of marijuana may be decreasing heroin abuse and overdoses in states where medical marijuana programs have been implemented.

Promising Numbers

According to Yuyan Shi , a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego, “Medical marijuana laws may have reduced hospitalizations related to opioid pain relievers.” Shi compiled data from states which have legalized marijuana for medical use and found those that did saw hospitalizations for opioid use and abuse drop by about 23 percent. Hospitalizations for opioid overdoses dropped by an average of 13 percent. The research also indicated that there was no increase in marijuana-related hospitalizations, as critics of medical cannabis programs had feared might happen.

Possible Links

While Shi’s research did not examine the reasons behind the potential link between medical marijuana and reduced opioid use, there are a number of factors to consider. Perhaps most glaringly, many people who abuse or are addicted to opioids start with legally-available painkillers. Some have prescriptions from their own doctors while others get Oxycontin or Percocet from friends with legal prescriptions. Opioids are dangerously addictive and when a person’s legal supply runs out—or friends are no longer willing to share illegally—many turn to heroin as a desperate substitute.

Legalized medical marijuana provides an alternative at several stages of the use-abuse cycle. First, many patients who are prescribed medical cannabis for painful chronic conditions may never even need the more dangerous opioid painkillers, thus eliminating the possibility of addiction. In addition, those who have been prescribed opioids could transition to medical marijuana—managed by a physician—instead of falling into the trap of heroin use.

Illinois Drug Policies

In the state of Illinois, simple possession of heroin is a felony. The laws are more lenient regarding marijuana, as the state implemented its medical marijuana program  in 2014. A measure that was passed last year also eliminated criminal prosecution for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana for those who are not registered with the medical-use program. Possession of marijuana above that amount, however, could still lead to criminal charges and serious penalties.
If you or someone you know is facing charges related to heroin, contact an experienced Joliet criminal defense attorney right away. We will assist you in exploring your options under the law and will work you with every step of the way. There may be programs available that could allow you to avoid a conviction while getting the help you need. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation today.

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