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New York offers medical marijuana as a substitute for opioids

Jessica McConnan By Jessica McConnan, M.A. on July 13, 2018
New York offers medical marijuana as a substitute for opioids

The New York State Department of Health will allow people who might otherwise qualify for opioid painkillers to use medical marijuana as replacement therapy and to use pot as a treatment for opioid addiction.

This move by the Empire State is an attempt to cut down on the number of opioid painkiller prescriptions and thereby help reduce the abuse of such drugs in the ongoing opioid epidemic.

The department said Thursday it would allow doctors and other certified practitioners to prescribe medical marijuana to patients with severe pain who would normally qualify for opioid treatment. It will also allow “opioid use disorder” as a qualifying condition for a medical marijuana prescription, so long as the patients are registered in a legitimate rehabilitation program.

Dr. Howard Zucker, New York’s state health commissioner, said medical pot has been proven as an effective pain treatment, and that it has the added benefit of helping reduce chances of patients getting addicted to their opioid painkillers. Although opioid drugs are frequently prescribed as painkillers, they come with severe dangers, especially the possibility that a patient using them will become dependent on them.

Already, New York allows medical marijuana treatment for a dozen conditions, including cancer, HIV or AIDS, Parkinson’s Disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder and several others.

Although permission to prescribe medical marijuana in place of opioids or as a treatment for opioid addiction has been given under short-term emergency regulations so far, Empire State authorities plan to make them permanent after they are published in August and go through a 60-day review by the public.

New York is also working to speed up the process whereby patients get medical marijuana cards, which have typically taken a week to 10 days to arrive after a prescription is provided. Now, starting next week, health officials said patients and caregivers will be able to print temporary cards quickly.

Recently, New York has added five new businesses that can make and hand out medical marijuana, allowed home delivery of medical pot, and allowed physician assistants and nurse practitioners to approve patients for treatment.

About 62,000 people are getting treatment now under the state’s medical marijuana program, and 1,735 medical practitioners are signed up to participate.

Dangerous and potent synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil have become much more common in overdose cases, with misuse and abuse of prescription opioid painkillers contributing heavily to the opioid epidemic in the United States. People are also sometimes killed when they accidentally take too much opioid pain medication, or even when they unknowingly combine two different drugs. So any plan to reduce the amount of opioid pain medication available should help cut down on such deaths.