U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently shared his idea for solving the opioid crisis: aspirin, sleep and less marijuana.
Speaking at an event in Tampa on Tuesday to celebrate Ronald Regan’s birthday, Sessions said his goal for 2018 is to see a greater decline in the amount of opioids prescribed (he said last year there was a 7 percent decline).
“We think doctors are just prescribing too many. Sometimes you just need two Bufferin or something and go to bed,” Sessions said. “These pills become so addictive.”
Bufferin is an over-the-counter aspirin with antacid. Sessions said according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, a “huge percentage” of heroin addiction starts with opioid prescriptions.
“That may be an exaggerated number, they had it as high as 80 percent. We think a lot of this is starting with marijuana and other drugs too,” Sessions said. “But we’ll see what the facts show, but we need to reduce the prescription abuse and hopefully reduce the addiction that’s out there.”
On Wednesday, Sessions doubled down on his previous remarks during a speech to Tampa law enforcement.
“I am operating on the assumption that this country prescribes too many opioids. People need to take some aspirin sometimes and tough it out a little bit,” Sessions said, then cited White House Chief of Staff John Kelly as someone who refused to take painkillers after a surgery on his hand. “You can get through these things.”
Sessions’ remarks were met with criticism from the chronic pain community, who explained that pain relief isn’t always as simple as “taking aspirin and going to bed.”
Sessions’ comments are at odds with data on opioid use and addiction. The opioid crisis claimed approximately 63,000 lives in 2016, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. However, synthetic opioids like fentanyl caused about a third of these deaths — which have increased 88 percent per year since 2013. Heroin caused about a fourth, and prescription opioids caused 23 percent, down from 26 percent in 2009.
Studies show the majority of people prescribed opioids do not become addicted (only between 1 and 12 percent develop an addiction). And a 2017 study found that 51.9 percent of people entering treatment for opioid use disorder started with prescription opioids, which is down from 84.7 percent in 2005. Among those, research has found that 75 percent of all opioid misuse starts with medication not prescribed to them.
Research has also suggested that marijuana is correlated with lower opioid use. Studies have found that states with legal marijuana dispensaries have fewer opioid deaths and that chronic pain patients who use marijuana use less opioids.