A public health researcher recently told a reporter about a 29-year-old man who said that half of his West Virginia high school class was dead—mostly from opioid and heroine overdoses.

This is not an uncommon story. I’ve heard the same, all to often, in my home state of Ohio.

“We are moving beyond an epidemic. I would call it a crisis,” Dr. Daniel Ciccarone, a San Francisco-based public health researcher told the Guardian.  

And don’t we all know it.

According to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids—including heroin and prescription versions of drugs such as OxyContin that are flooding our country—killed more than 33,000 people in the U.S. in 2015.

And that figure is growing.

The New York Times recently reported that in 2016, overdoses from drugs was the leading cause of death of people under the age of 50. And that includes deaths caused by gun fatalities and auto accidents. Yes, you read that correctly.

Drug overdoses now kill more Americans each year than at the height of the HIV epidemic.

Tim Frasca, author and researcher at Columbia University’s HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies, draws parallels with the early years of the HIV epidemic of the 1980s-1990s.

“And the victims are equally vilified,” Frasca told HIGH TIMES.

Indeed, the problem is increasingly being called this generation’s AIDS crisis, which at its peak in 1995 claimed more than 51,000 U.S. lives.

Overdoses are spiraling, partly because of illicitly manufactured Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, and similar drugs that are entering the U.S. illegally.

Fentanyl is around 50 times more potent than heroin (and in some forms much more so). A combination of its strength and the fact that users are not aware that parts of the heroin supply have been laced with it—or that it’s often used in fake prescription opioids—makes fentanyl especially lethal.

And now, according to the New York City Department of Public Health, fentanyl is appearing in the local cocaine supply.

This crisis isn’t confined to the U.S.; Canada is also in the midst of its own opioid crisis.

However, coinciding with the Harm Reduction International conference in Montreal this past May, the Canadian government is taking an extraordinary step to confront the problem.

Lucie Charlebois, Québec’s minister of public health, announced the opening in Montreal of two centers where people will be able to inject illicit drugs under a nurse’s supervision.

What a great idea.

In view of our shameful mass incarceration rates—the highest per capita in the world—wouldn’t it be a better idea to help people with addictions rather than to criminalize them?

After all, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the vast majority of heroin and other opioid users started with prescription medications for chronic pain.

Chronic pain? Here’s an idea: medical marijuana.

And here is just part of a growing body of evidence confirming that MMJ is effective for pain—the National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine’s rigorous review of scientific research that included more than 10,000 peer-reviewed studies, which supported conclusive evidence that cannabis is clinically effective in treating a number of illnesses… including chronic pain.

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