Kettering, OH— While speaking on March 2nd at a press conference on opioids at an inpatient facility that treats newborns suffering from prenatal drug exposure, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar proclaimed that “there really is no such thing as medical marijuana” in response to a question regarding what he sees as the role of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain management. Azar went on to say, “There is no FDA approved use of marijuana, a botanical plant. I just want to be very clear about that.”

Azar, who was the president of the U.S. division of Eli Lilly & Co. from 2012 to 2017, added that the government will invest hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into “next generation pain therapies” as an alternative to opioids.

“We are devoting hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of research at our National Institutes of Health as part of the historic $13 billion opioid and serious mental illness program that the President and Congress are funding,” Azar said. “Over $750 million just in 2019 alone is going to be dedicated towards the National Institutes of Health working in public-private partnership to try and develop the next generation of pain therapies that are not opioids.”

Numerous recent scientific studies in states with medicinal cannabis programs have found that marijuana has drastically reduced opioid dependence. A recent study published by the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Medical Cannabis revealed that among patients known to be taking opiate painkillers upon their enrollment into the program, 63 percent “were able to reduce or eliminate opioid usage after six months.”

The results from Minnesota’s program align with numerous studies conducted in other states with active medical marijuana programs. In a 2016 report, using data gathered from patients enrolled in Michigan’s medical cannabis program, indicated that marijuana treatment “was associated with a 64 percent decrease in opioid use, decreased number and side effects of medications, and an improved quality of life.”

An investigative report by Politico revealed that during Azar’s tenure at Eli Lilly, the company used erectile dysfunction drug Cialis on boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy to increase profits from the drug and extend its exclusive patent for another six months using a process often referred to as “pediatric patent extension”. While the move reportedly profited the company a billion dollars, critics noted that it crossed ethical lines and had no effect on the children’s condition.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), during Azar’s confirmation hearings in November, appears to predicted the former pharmaceutical executive’s allegiance to big pharma, stating:

I told you in my office you’ve got some convincing to make me believe that you’re going to represent the American people and not big pharma…And I know that’s insulting…because I’m sure you’re an honest and upright person…But we all have our doubts, because big pharma manipulates the system to keep prices high…We have to really fix it, and I — you need to convince those of us who are skeptical that you’ll be part of fixing it and won’t beholden to big pharma.

[WATCH: Ben Swann’s Reality Check: Jeff Sessions Wages War on Cannabis]

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