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Patients With Chronic Pain Turn From Prescription Opioids To Medical Marijuana

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- With the growing opioid epidemic, doctors are looking into alternatives to addictive prescriptions for treating chronic pain.

Some experts believe medical marijuana could help curb the nation's narcotic drug crisis.

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports, Christine Stenquist suffered through a brain tumor, fibromyalgia and debilitating headaches. Chronic pain led to 45 different prescription drugs.

"Migraines were just constant. So they started me on a lot of pharmaceuticals, and that went on for 16 years," she said.

Between the pain and the opioids, the mother of four was left bedridden. Eventually, she decided to give medical marijuana a try.

"This is just a whole different lifestyle. I'm eating healthier, I'm more active, more alert," she said.

Stenquist is one of a growing number of Americans who have traded in their powerful and addictive painkillers for the green alternative.

Several studies suggest that in states where medical marijuana is legal, opioid overdose deaths are down as much as 25 percent.

But the DEA still warns of a high potential for abuse, and despite scientific evidence to the contrary, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has described marijuana as "only slightly less awful" than heroin.

"I reject the idea that we're going to be a better place if we have more marijuana," Sessions has said.

Dr. Carla Rossotti Vazquez, who treats pain patients, disagrees.

"I've had patients that since they have been using their vaporizers with cannabis, they've decreased their use in Ambien, they've decreased their use on Clonazepam, on Percocet," she said.

"Within six months, I was driving. Within eight months, I was trying to figure out how to pass a law in my state," Stenquist said.

Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, although actual access to cannabis varies widely between them. Plus, the conflict between state and federal laws, which still prohibit all marijuana use, means many patients may still have to resort to opioids for pain relief.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, deaths from prescription painkillers have more than quadrupled since 1999, and 91 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses.

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