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After 20 years of patented opioid painkillers flooding America thanks to the pharmaceutical industry and careless doctors, the United States finds itself in a raging opioid epidemic.

The numbers are telling: 80 percent of the global opioid supply is consumed in the U.S., representing about 300 million prescriptions in 2015 alone or “enough drugs to give every single American 64 Percocets or Vicodin.

As pain pill prescriptions have surged, overdose deaths from these legal drugs now total about 15,000 every year. When people can’t afford patented pills anymore, they turn to heroin, which killed almost 13,000 people in 2015—a 23 percent increase in one year.

Meanwhile, Big Pharma rakes in $24 billion a year from prescription opioids. Fully aware of the problem they helped create, companies like Purdue Pharma—perhaps the most notorious pill pusher with its infamous OxyContin—are now selling patented “abuse-deterrent” painkillers. These are bringing billions more in profits to pharma companies, “even though there's little proof they reduce rates of overdoses or deaths.

Another questionable avenue for tackling the opioid problem is the development of an "addiction vaccine." The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a federal agency, is using taxpayer dollars to fund efforts for anti-drug vaccines, as described on their webpage.

“A successful anti-drug vaccine will induce an immune response that blocks the target drug from entering the brain.

A patient who has been vaccinated will obtain no reward or relief of craving from taking the target drug, and so will have reduced motivation to continue further in relapse.”

NIDA funded experiments at the Scripps Research Institute have resulted in a successful anti-heroin vaccine used on primates. In a July 3 press release, study author Kim Janda noted the research “validates our previous rodent data and positions our vaccine in a favorable light for anticipated clinical evaluation.”

If vaccines can save the lives of opioid addicts without causing harm to brain-body functions, that is apparently a good thing. The question is, who will profit from it? Will this taxpayer-funded research turn into patented products bringing billions of dollars to Big Pharma?

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Federal government supports anti-drug vaccines and other methods, including “overdose-reversal interventions” such as Nalaxone and medications to treat opioid addiction, but there is one elephant in the room which it continues to ignore.

Medical cannabis.

The National Academy of Sciences recently analyzed the state of scientific research on medical cannabis and reported “conclusive evidence” for its success at treating chronic pain.

As The Free Thought Project has covered extensively, studies are proving the real-world potential for medical cannabis to help solve the opioid crisis. In August 2015 we reported on a study finding that deaths from painkillers plummet in states with legal cannabis.

This was only the beginning. A study released in July 2016 confirmed that opioid use declines dramatically in states with legal medical cannabis. Prescriptions for depression, seizure, nausea and anxiety also declined. In March 2017, an analysis of hospital records found that medical cannabis access reduces harm from opioid abuse among the population.

Although government may deny the benefits of medical cannabis, the people are well informed. In January 2016, we reported on a study finding that 80 percent of therapeutic cannabis users give up prescriptions pills for the healing plant. A study last week confirmed this phenomenon, reporting that nearly 100 percent of medical cannabis users are giving up prescription pills.

Former “drug czar” Michael Botticelli admitted in October 2016 that “government hasn’t wholly supported research to really investigate what’s the potential therapeutic value [of cannabis].” Indeed, Congress has made sure to block any chance at medical cannabis being part of the solution to the opioid crisis.

While the feds gladly fund research for anti-drug vaccines and other medications to treat opioid abuse—meaning more patent potential for their Big Pharma buddies—the prohibition of cannabis remains in full effect. Tens of thousands die and suffer while the ludicrous war on a plant continues.

With cannabis’ proven efficacy at combating the opioid epidemic, the only criminal act being committed is lawmakers keeping prohibition in place.