The opioid epidemic is hurting communities all across the United States. No demographic is safe as Big Pharma has pushed addictive and deadly drugs into localities big and small. As NPR just reported, my birth state of Missouri has seen 1.6 billion doses dropped into the state over the last 6 years, enough doses to give every resident 260 opioid pills each:

The finding comes from a report released Thursday by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. It’s the latest in a series of investigations by the senator into the role of drugmakers, distributors and other industry players in fueling the opioid epidemic.

The McCaskill report shows that the three major drug wholesalers – McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health – together shipped 1.6 billion doses of opioids into Missouri from 2012 through 2017.

“The opioid crisis these pills have fueled is a failure of policy and oversight by the government and a failure of basic human morality on the part of many pharmaceutical companies and distributors—a failure that has destroyed families and communities all over our state,” McCaskill said in a statement.

While the opioid crisis is a frightening, difficult battle for our nation, there is hope: cannabis. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has stated that she supports medical cannabis, but with this recent report, she should completely embrace the medical measure her Show-me State constituents voting on the issue this November. Several researchers have already shown that states with laws providing access to regulated cannabis have done better defusing opioid abuse than prohibition states, another study was just released detailing how access to cannabis reduces opioid usage, as Tom Angell covered in Forbes:

“In this study, we found that statewide medical cannabis legalization implemented in 1993 – 2014 in the US was associated with close to 30% reductions in Schedule III opioids received by Medicaid enrollees,” the researchers, from the University of California San Diego and Weill Cornell Medical College, wrote in the journal Addiction.

Calculating the cost of opioid pain drugs that patients would have otherwise purchased, the study estimated that medical cannabis legalization in states that have so far adopted it saves the federal government $7.46 million in annual Medicaid spending. Add to that an additional $6.54 million in savings for states.

“[I]f all the states had legalized medical cannabis by 2014, Medicaid annual spending on opioid prescriptions would be reduced by 17.8 million dollars,” the study projected.

The revenue and jobs that the cannabis industry gernerates garners most of the headlines, but the benefits of legal cannabis are many. Cannabis legalization activists have long proclaimed the multitude of reasons to end prohibition, often being ridiculed. Now that cannabis has gone mainstream, legalization is no laughing matter, and neither is our nation’s opioid epidemic. Ending cannabis prohibition literally saves lives. If the United States really wants to tackle our deadly opioid problem, then all of the tools should be on the table, including cannabis legalization.

Learn the latest about efforts to implement sensible cannabis laws at the International Cannabis Business Conference in Portland Oregon this September 27th-28th.