Any deaths from opioids are tragic and wasteful. We have seen our share of them in our local communities, and while not always high profile, they have the same devastating effect whether the cause is spoken about or hushed up. The more than 500 Cape Codders deaths due to opioid overdoses since 2000 have caused emotional anguish, social instability and economic woes throughout the community.
Various agencies have worked to fight the battle against opioids, and while skirmishes have been won, the battle is now going well. Across the country, 115 people die from opioid overdoses every day. As Senator Elizabeth Warren said at Cape Cod Technical High School Saturday, that's equal to an airplane crashing every day. If that happened, she correctly stated, “we would put everything into it to stop it.”
Warren and Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland are sponsoring legislation that would distribute $100 billion over 10 years to states to fight the crisis. Massachusetts would get $55 million annually, with the Cape seeing $2.7 million. Local officials will decide how to spend the money.
While this is welcome acknowledgment of the problem – Warren is correct in comparing the federal government's response to the opioid epidemic to the early days of the AIDS crisis – it's not nearly enough. There needs to be a much more aggressive education push, on par with cigarettes and the early war on drugs. To pay for this and for much-needed increases in treatment facilities and personnel, pharmaceutical companies, which are largely responsible for the crisis because of the way they push painkillers, should be taxed or sued to cough up some of their obscene profits to help this multi-pronged effort.
Another factor that needs to be addressed is removing marijuana from the Schedule 1 federal drug classification, which applies to drugs and chemicals with no known medicinal use, including meth, LSD – and heroin. There's no reason for marijuana to be on this list, and there is mounting evidence that it can be a substitute for opioid painkillers in easing pain and also help addicts ease dependency on heroin and other opioids. A growing recognition of this and acceptance of medical marijuana, if not outright legalization, at the federal level gives hope that it can soon be added to the weapons available to fight opioid addiction.