Addressing opioids, medical marijuana in Oklahoma

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OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s no secret that prescription drug abuse has been on the rise in Oklahoma. But the situation goes deeper than many realize.

“We’ve evolved into an even more dangerous period,” said Dr. William Yarborough, president of the Oklahoma Society of Addiction Medicine.

Dr. Yarborough says a big factor pushing the trend is opioids.

“There was a broader exposure for a period of time when pain management was really aggressively being done with opiates pushed up to high doses,” said Dr. Yarborough. “So, more people got exposed.”

And with that exposure came a whole new chapter.

“With the amount of medicine being prescribed, more of it wound up in people’s medicine cabinets and other places, even exposing a larger group of people to the opiates,” said Dr. Yarborough.

In Oklahoma, the demand for opiates triggered a resurgence of something else.

“Now, we’re seeing more elicit opiates coming in to feed the habit, such as heroin,” said Dr. Yarborough.

Dr. Yarborough also says meth is a huge player in the state’s drug problem, and often people are addicted to both meth and opiates.

But now a new frontier has arrived: 788 and medical marijuana.

“The people have said this is a medicine now, and I’m all for that the people spoke, right? And I think we should facilitate getting this done because that’s what the people want,” said Dr. Yarborough. “But as a physician, it’s still a little confusing to me.”

Dr. Yarborough says more research and data are key.

“As a physician, I’m not theoretically opposed to marijuana. I don’t know how to prescribe it or what to prescribe it for because this is not like any FDA medicine I’ve prescribed,” he said.

And a big question: Is marijuana a gateway drug?

“I think if you understand addiction, and really what happens with addiction and all of that, you don’t really see marijuana as a gateway,” said Dr. Yarborough. “You don’t really see marijuana as a harmless drug either because people do have addiction problems with marijuana.”

And if recreational marijuana passes?

“I don’t anticipate a huge marijuana addiction problem with legalized marijuana,” he said.

The Oklahoma Society of Addiction Medicine will meet on Saturday to discuss ways to deal with the opioid crisis and strategies for medical marijuana.

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