Are We Really Putting Patients First In Their Treatment?

Recent headlines sweeping across the United States have provided us with the slow but steady release of legal documents detailing how opioid and fentanyl-based painkillers have been marketed to vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly and veterans. With the opioid epidemic affecting an estimated 26 million to 36 million people worldwide, it’s fair to ask: Are we always putting patient safety first? Sadly, the answer is sometimes no.

This 2015 study indicates accidental opioid overdose led to the deaths of 33,000 people. After Oklahoma called for accountability for these statistics, a flurry of lawsuits from 36 states and more than 1,600 U.S. cities began to surface, allowing one to conclude that patient safety was not the decision-driver in these circumstances.

“Do no harm” is commonly associated with the Hippocratic Oath, where caregivers vow to follow a treatment regimen that they believe to be of benefit to their patients. It is important to understand that many doctors are faced with the decision to leave their patient in pain or prescribe a treatment plan with a long list of potentially harmful side effects, a true catch-22. While practitioners believed that they were providing palliative care, the unfortunate reality is that opioids are not as good at managing pain as once thought, begging the question: Is it worth the risk?

The only way to divert from this path is to rethink the way we treat pain and explore less harmful and more sustainable alternatives. The solution lies right at our feet. There have been numerous studies outlining the benefits of cannabis for medical treatments. In fact, cannabis is considered a safe and effective alternative therapy for opioid addiction. Conventional pharmaceutical intervention does not address the underlying medical condition and can, in fact, increase dependency and addiction behaviors. Alternately, cannabis contains therapeutic properties that are known for soothing pain, suppressing opiate induced cravings and controlling withdrawal syndromes.

This survey from the Journal of Pain states that patients experiencing chronic pain were able to reduce opioid use by 64 percent and “improve quality of life,” with the use of medical cannabis. As opposed to harmful drugs like heroin, cocaine or nicotine, medical cannabis is reported to be safe for long-term pain management with few or no side effects. The analgesic effects of marijuana and its ability to relieve pain date back 5,000 years. With the recent legalization of medical marijuana in 34 states and no need for a prescription, clinicians are able to provide referrals for cannabinoids to safely treat a variety of conditions including “any chronic medical condition that limits ability life activities.”

Patient safety and wellbeing must be a universal endeavor. The most important aspect of treatment, even more than its ability to fight a disease, is to ensure that it is safe for use for the entire patient population, and opioids do not meet this criteria. Accelerated action is required if we are to remain committed to the improvement and safety of medical care.

Eyal Barad is CEO of Cannabics Pharmaceuticals, a leading company in personalized cannabinoid medicine focused on cancer and its side effects.

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