DOH to allow medical marijuana for opioid treatment

Decision would expand market for medical marijuana
Vireo assistant cultivator Emily Errico checks pot plants in Perth in 2015.
Vireo assistant cultivator Emily Errico checks pot plants in Perth in 2015.

ALBANY — The state Department of Health plans to add opioid use to the conditions for which medical marijuana can be prescribed.

“As research indicates that marijuana can reduce the use of opioids, adding opioid use as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana has the potential to help save countless lives across the state,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in announcing the decision on Monday.

Opioid use would join 12 other conditions for which the state allows the use of non-smoking medical marijuana under the DOH-administered program.

In Brooklyn, meanwhile, Zucker told reporters that the DOH has completed a study, though not released, that will recommend limited legalization of recreational marijuana, according to the New York Times.

In a prepared statement on the medical marijuana expansion, the Health Department said marijuana has been shown to be an effective pain treatment, while not carrying the overdose risk of opioid narcotics. The state has seen an enormous increase in overdose deaths in recent years, from around 1,000 in 2010 to more than 3,000 in 2016, according to the Health Department.

State Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, who is chairman of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, said he was glad to see the change, though he noted that the Senate and Assembly were already working on the issue.

An Amedore-sponsored bill to allow marijuana treatment for opioid use unanimously passed the Senate on Monday, and is headed for the Assembly.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time. For the governor come out with this announcement now — at least he’s paying attention to the issue,” Amedore said on Monday.

Amedore said marijuana could be the preferred pain-management treatment for recovered opioid addicts, in addition to being a general pain-relief alternative to opioids. “For someone who has been an addict in the past this is a very good alternative for pain treatment, because they don’t want to go back,” he said.

Provider Vireo Health has a marijuana-growing facility for the state program in Perth, Fulton County.

“Today’s announcement made by state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker is an important step towards potentially helping thousands of New Yorkers that rely on opioid-based medications to treat their pain,” Vireo Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stephen Dahmer said in a released statement. “We are fully prepared to work collaboratively with the department to improve medical cannabis access and support more New Yorkers who can benefit from these medicines.”

There are were 59,327 certified medical marijuana patients in the state as of Monday, according to the Health Department.

The New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers warned that any expansion of medical marijuana access should be accompanied by public education efforts to discourage marijuana abuse.

“This includes public health and public safety efforts to prevent under-age use, treat physical health aspects related to smoking marijuana, awareness regarding the dangers of using marijuana while operating a vehicle, and many other unintended consequences that may result, including substance abuse disorders,” said John Coppola, the association’s executive director.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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