Last month, the New York Department of Health filed an emergency measure allowing patients using prescription opioids to replace them with medical marijuana. This measure, which becomes official on Aug. 1, 2018, is an attempt to recognize cannabis “as an effective treatment for pain that may also reduce the chance of opioid dependence,” according to Dr. Howard Zucker, New York state’s health commissioner 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," Zucker went on to say.
It’s estimated that roughly 115 people die daily from an opioid overdose. In 2016, a whopping 236 million prescriptions of opioid medications were given out to patients across the country. In 2012, that number topped out at 282 million.
Currently, chronic pain—which is typically linked with opioid prescriptions, use and abuse—is one of 12 conditions that qualify folks in New York for medical marijuana. However, the addition of opioid replacement as a qualifying condition also allows individuals with severe pain as well as opioid use disorder to qualify for medical marijuana.
“While health care professionals will still have to provide the underlying acute condition that the patient is suffering from, they now won’t have to wait for the three-month qualifying timeframe that defines chronic pain. Instead, patients will be able to use cannabis immediately when injured if their doctor prescribes it to them,” says Dr. Perry Solomon, HelloMD’s chief medical officer.
Dr. Solomon adds, “The awareness that cannabis can help decrease pain has been shown in an observational study with HelloMD and UC Berkeley. In this study, 97% of the nearly 3,000 patients who participated were able to decrease their opioid use with the use of cannabis. If only more states were as progressive as New York is, then deaths caused by opioid use and abuse could potentially be decreased even further.”
Opioid replacement joins 12 conditions that qualify people in New York for medical marijuana. These include: cancer, HIV or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, Huntington's disease, PTSD and chronic pain.
As of July 10, 2018, there are 62,256 certified patients and 1,735 registered practitioners participating in New York State’s medical marijuana program.