The opioid crisis in America has a adverse impact on our veterans. Based on a 2011 study of the VA System, veterans routinely contend with poorly-treated chronic pain resulting in increased suicide risk.
Furthermore, veterans are twice as likely to give in to accidental opioid overdoses, and traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to be leading causes of death and disability.
The VA is well known for throwing narcotics to deal with Vets rather than a accurate medical diagnosis and treatment plan. Which can end up in everything from addiction to suicide and everything in-between that ruins their lives and the lives of those around them.
While pot remains to be a Schedule 1 substance – “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” based on the Drug Enforcement Administration – states remain free to pass laws making it possible for for the creation of recreational or medical weed programs.
Nevertheless, at the federal level, one government agency is facing mounting pressure to adopt a different position on the usage of marijuana for medicinal reasons: the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA and its medical arm, the Veterans Health Administration – which delivers healthcare services to more than 9 million enrolled veterans – have maintained consistent, but fuzzy guidelines on medical marijuana.
Based on taskandpurpose.com, 46-year-old Boone Cutler, who served in the Army across three enlistments between 1990 and 2010. While deployed to Iraq’s Sadr City from 2005 to 2006, Cutler endured a traumatic brain injury subsequent a mortar attack. He was later diagnosed by the VA with post-traumatic stress disorder and early-onset Parkinson’s Disease.
Following his injury, Cutler was wracked with chronic migraines and insomnia – at best, he could count on just a few hours of fitful sleep each evening. Between 2006 and 2010, he was prescribed a range of medications at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and later at a VA clinic in Reno, Nevada. To help treat his insomnia and the pain from his sore joints and relentless headaches, Cutler received a prescription cocktail he called “zombie dope” and explained it left him feeling disconnected, not able to feel or think clearly. Out of desperation, Cutler checked into a VA psychiatric ward in Reno in 2010. While there, he chose to check out medical pot – made legal in Nevada in 2000 – to help him rest.
The first evening he smoked, Cutler stated he slept five hours and woke up “refreshed,” a feeling that had eluded him for almost half a decade. Though he currently uses just cannabis-based extracts, like cannabidiol, for a while, he medicated with a mix of painkillers and herb, and advised his doctors he was doing so.
“What I found out was that there was this secret everybody used and nobody talked about it,” Cutler explained. “My doctor’s just flat out didn’t have a problem with it. My VA docs – I had two at that time – they asked how my sleep was, and I said, ‘it’s fine, I use cannabis,’ and they asked how that’s working, I said, ‘it works great,’ and that was basically it.”
But a change could already be coming to the VA, and as opposed to taking place in back rooms around Capitol Hill, it’s happening at the doctor’s office with conversations between veterans and their physicians.
Many veterans struggling from PTSD and chronic pain – specifically those of the Iraq and Afghanistan generation – have explained to The American Legion that they have achieved improved healthcare outcomes by foregoing VA-prescribed opioids in support of medical cannabis. While the stories of these wartime veterans are compelling, more research must be done in order to allow the American folks to have a fact-based debate on future drug policy.
The latest public opinion polls demonstrate that more than 80% of the American folks and 92% of veteran households support medical cannabis research.
Here’s the issue: because the federal government lists cannabis as a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act, it is nearly impossible for medical professionals to carry out research on the drug. (All of the opioids causing the current crisis are Schedule II drugs or lower.)
In September 2016, at the Legion’s National Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, Legionnaires passed Resolution 11 to encourage the Drug Enforcement Agency to license privately-funded medical marijuana production operations in the United States to make it possible for safe and efficient cannabis drug development research, and encourage Congress to amend legislation to remove Marijuana from schedule I and reclassify it in a category that, at a minimum, will acknowledge cannabis as a drug with potential medical value. We’re not alone.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine discovered significant proof for the efficacy of cannabis in treating chronic pain, reducing spasticity in MS patients and reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea or vomiting.
In August 2017, at the Legion’s National Convention in Reno, Nev., Legionnaires passed Resolution 28 calling on the Federal government to permit medical providers within the Department of Veterans Affairs to talk about medical cannabis as a treatment option in states where medical marijuana is legal.
Here’s the bottom line: veterans are struggling; the government is standing in the way; and we need your support to influence Congress to act.
A memo from Five Corners Strategies on the survey stated, “Support for medical cannabis and research on medical cannabis is high across veterans and caregivers, all age ranges, gender, political leanings and geography.”
The survey demonstrated that 88 % of self-identified conservative respondents, 90 % of self-identified liberals and 70 % of self-identified independents supported federally legalized medical cannabis.
The survey was released at a Capitol Hill news conference attended by Reps. Tim Walz, D-Minnesota, ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee; Mark Takano, D-California; Julia Brownley, D-California; and Matt Gaetz, R-Florida.
At its national convention in Reno, Nevada, in August, the American Legion adopted a resolution recommending the federal government to permit doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs to talk about and recommend medical marijuana in the 26 states where cannabis is legal.
The Legion previously had pressed the removal of marijuana from the government’s list of “Schedule 1” drugs. The list features heroin, LSD and Ecstasy, which are deemed to have no medical use.
In May, VA Secretary David Shulkin stated he was open to new proof demonstrating marijuana could be utilized to treat veterans, but VA policy currently bars its doctors from sharing their opinions on marijuana with veterans or recommending it for medical use.
At the news conference Thursday, Legion Executive Director Verna Jones pressured that the Legion is “not advocating for recreational use of marijuana, but we are advocating for the removal of cannabis from Schedule One of the Controlled Substances Act so that more medical investigators can do research.”
Lou Celli, the Legion’s national director of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, stated that as a ex – law enforcement officer and Army master sergeant, he was in the beginning skeptical when veterans explained to him of the beneficial effects of medicinal marijuana.
He stated he has come to consider that “cannabis is improperly categorized as a ‘most dangerous and most addictive’ drug – right up there with Ecstasy and heroin. Strangely, all of the opioids that kill more than 90 Americans every day are Schedule II and III drugs.
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