New York regulators are moving to allow patients who would normally be prescribed opioids for any condition to use medical marijuana instead.
That means people suffering from severe pain, opioid dependency or other maladies will now qualify to receive medical cannabis, the state Department of Health announced on Thursday.
“Medical marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment for pain that may also reduce the chance of opioid dependence,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a press release.
“Adding opioid replacement as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana offers providers another treatment option, which is a critical step in combatting the deadly opioid epidemic affecting people across the state.”
Research has consistently demonstrated the ingredients in cannabis can treat various forms of pain, including neuropathic, acute and chronic pain.
Adding severe pain and opioid dependency to the list means that 13 health conditions now qualify patients for medical marijuana in New York. Currently, more than 62,000 patients and about 1,700 practitioners are registered under the state’s medical cannabis program, according to the release.
Numerous surveys have shown that, given the option of using cannabis as an alternative to prescription opioids, pain patients would opt for the former. Unlike opioids, marijuana does not come with the same risk of dependency and nobody has fatally overdosed on the plant.
There’s also evidence that states that provide legal access to marijuana experience significantly fewer opioid-related hospitalizations. A study released this week found that medical marijuana laws were associated with an almost 30 percent reduction in the amount of Schedule III opioids prescribed to Medicaid enrollees.
New York’s Department of Health first announced its plans to add severe pain and opioid dependency to the list of qualifying conditions last month, and is now releasing the emergency regulations to implement the decision.
New York Sen. George Amedore Jr. (R) said in a press release that he’s been “strongly advocating to remove barriers and allow the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids because it will help patients, reduce the number of highly addictive opioids in circulation and ultimately, it will save lives.”
“We continue to be faced with an opioid epidemic that is devastating communities throughout our state. It’s important we continue to do everything possible to address this issue from all sides, so I’m glad the Department of Health is taking this measure that will help high risk patients, as well as those that are struggling with, or have overcome, addiction.”
The move from the state health department reflects an evolving approach to marijuana in New York. The New York Democratic Party recently endorsed full marijuana legalization, for example.
And Zucker, the health commissioner, said last month that “the pros outweigh the cons” when it comes to ending cannabis prohibition in the state. A report from his department will recommend full legalization, he added, but a date for its release has not yet been announced.
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who is facing a primary challenge from pro-legalization actress Cynthia Nixon, encouraged banks to begin working with medical cannabis and hemp businesses.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
New York Enacts Emergency Rules Allowing Medical Marijuana As Opioid Replacement
In a report released by the CDC on how to properly prescribe opioid painkillers, the authors advises doctors not to test patients for marijuana.
To qualify for a pain management regiment, many clinics in the United States test for illegal drugs to determine if a patient has a penchant for abuse. Some doctors ban patients who test positive THC, even if marijuana is legal in the state. The CDC’s new guidelines seek to avoid “inappropriate termination of care” as a result of a doctor’s personal biases.
“Clinicians should not test for substances for which results would not affect patient management or for which implications for patient management are unclear.”
The authors of the guidelines recognize the dangers of turning away patients in need of pain management, as the opioid epidemic helps patients to acquire painkillers outside of the healthcare system.
“Clinicians should not dismiss patients from care based on a urine drug test result because this could constitute patient abandonment and could have adverse consequences for patient safety, potentially including the patient obtaining opioids from alternative sources and the clinician missing opportunities to facilitate treatment for substance use disorder.”
In addition, the report also highlights the inconsistency of urine tests for THC. “…experts noted that there might be uncertainty about the clinical implications of a positive urine drug test for tetrahydrocannabinols (THC).”
Previously, Pain News Network reported on the inconsistencies of drug tests for THC as well as opioids. “One study found that 21% of POC tests for marijuana produced a false positive result. The test was also wrong 21% of the time when marijuana is not detected in a urine sample.” Another study also revealed that incorporating cannabis into pain management treatments does not increase risk of substance abuse.
While the CDC report does not suggest marijuana is an alternative to an opioid painkiller, despite a report indicating a reduction in opioid deaths in states with reformed marijuana legislation, it was released not long after Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plea to the CDC to study the effectiveness of marijuana for pain management.
People who use or have considered using cannabis to treat conditions like chronic pain have yet another reason to turn their back on prescription painkillers. JAMA Internal Medicine released a study revealing that medical marijuana may reduce the number of deaths caused by painkiller overdoses.
The study’s abstract begins by detailing the importance of addressing the painkiller overdose epidemic in the United States. The main objective, as the study’s authors put it, was “to determine the association between the presence of state medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality.” The study concluded that deaths resulting from opioid overdoses were “significantly lower” in states where medical marijuana was legal.
Researchers examined death certifications in all 50 states between 1999 and 2010, and cross referenced the data with medical marijuana laws. Only 13 states had legalized medical marijuana at that time of the comparison.
Dr. Marcus Bachhuber, lead author of the study, reported:
“We found there was about a 25% lower rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths on average after implementation of a medical marijuana law.”
For quite some time, medications like oxycodone and morphine (also known as opioid analgesics) have been prescribed to treat severe chronic pain. Due to the high risk of addiction these drugs present to patients, the chances of overdosing can increase dramatically the longer they are used. According to the CDC, 44 people die each day in the United States by overdosing on prescription painkillers. By contrast, there is currently no record of cannabis causing death by overdose when used alone.
In states where it is legal for medicinal purposes or otherwise, cannabis has proven itself to be a safe alternative to dangerous opioid pain medications. Cannabis has proven to be an effective pain reliever, and many patients report that it works better than pharmaceuticals. However, due to its legal status at the federal level, researchers have found it difficult to confirm its safety from a scientific perspective.
Dr. Lynn Webster, former president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, explained:
“The use of cannabinoids may well have a place in the treatment of pain and other diseases …The DEA should reschedule cannabinoids from Schedule I to Schedule II so that it will make it easier for research to be conducted.”
While the report released by JAMA Internal Medicine is great news for patients and proponents of cannabis, more research is necessary to solidify the link between the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of chronic pain and the decline of painkiller overdoses.
Still, this correlation could help to spark the policy reform required to allow researchers to determine if cannabis can be a safe and effective alternative to prescription painkillers.