48 LONGISLANDPRESS.COM • DECEMBER 2018
THE NEW ANTI DRUG?
Can medical marijuana help with
the current opioid epidemic? Gov.
Andrew Cuomo thinks so.
The potential link between marijuana
and opioid addiction treatment
is well documented. Multiple studies
have indicated that for those struggling
with chronic pain, marijuana
could be a viable, nonaddictive alternative
to opioids such as OxyContin,
Vicodin or heroin. Medical marijuana
has also been shown to help
with the temporarily debilitating
symptoms of opioid withdrawal —
nausea, vomiting, spasms, cramps,
So, when New York State Health
Commissioner Howard Zucker told
the governor that medical marijuana
offers a less harmful opioid replacement
for recovery from opioid use
disorder, Cuomo listened.
“In this battle against the opioid epidemic,
it is critical that we use every
means at our disposal to prevent the
unnecessary prescription of these
dangerous and addictive painkillers,”
Cuomo said in a statement.
In September, the governor signed a
bill that allows substance-use disorder
treatment providers to recommend
medical marijuana to treat pain instead
of prescribing opioids. It also adds opiate
use disorder to the list of qualifying
conditions for medical marijuana.
“Adding these conditions to the list
of those approved for management
with medical marijuana will help reduce
the risk of addiction and provide
suffering New Yorkers the relief they
need,” Cuomo said.
Opioid abuse is the leading cause of
lethal drug overdose nationwide. In
2015 alone, there were 20,101 deaths
attributed to prescription painkillers,
as well as 12,990 fatal heroin
Nearly 80 percent of heroin users nationwide
reported using prescription
opioids before initiating heroin use.
In some states with medical marijuana
laws, there has been a 24.8 percent
drop in opioid overdose deaths. And
each year after the medical cannabis
law was passed, the rate of opioid overdose
deaths continued to decrease,
according to a report in the Journal of
the American Medical Association.
At least 33 states, Guam, Puerto
Rico, and Washington, D.C., have adopted
medical marijuana programs.
"Medical marijuana has been
shown to be an effective treatment
for pain that may also reduce the
chance of opioid dependence," Zucker
said. "Adding opioid replacement as
a qualifying condition for medical
marijuana offers providers another
treatment option, which is a critical
step in combating the deadly opioid
epidemic affecting people across the
Opioid replacement and addiction
joins the following 12 qualifying
conditions under the state's Medical
Marijuana Program: cancer; HIV infection
or AIDS; amyotrophic lateral
sclerosis (ALS); Parkinson's disease;
multiple sclerosis; spinal cord injury
with spasticity; epilepsy; inflammatory
bowel disease; neuropathy;
Huntington's disease; post-traumatic
stress disorder; and chronic pain.
This new measure allows patients
with severe pain to use medical marijuana
as a replacement for opioids.
It also allows patients with opioid
use disorder who are enrolled in
a certified treatment program to
use medical marijuana as an opioid
To “recommend” medical marijuana
to patients, practitioners
— including doctors, nurse practitioners
and physician assistants —
must complete a state Department
of Health-approved course. They
must also consult the New York State
Prescription Monitoring Program
Registry (PMP) prior to issuing a
Patients who are certified by their
practitioners must apply to the
DOH for a registry identification
card. Then, they may visit one of the
state’s registered medical marijuana
Plans to add opioid replacement as
a qualifying condition for medical
marijuana in the state were first
announced in June. They went into
effect on a temporary basis in July
and a 60-day public comment period
began in August.
As of November 13, there were
80,618 certified patients and 2,020
registered practitioners participating
in the program.
In New York, medical marijuana
is dispensed in several forms:
capsule, liquid, vape, tablets,
lozenges and ointments. The
products contain varying levels
of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
— the psychoactive component of
Dr. Stuart Wasser of Rockville Centre,
a certified addiction specialist,
says he’s skeptical.
“I believe it may reduce total
amounts of opioids used, but I don’t
think it will reduce absolute number
of people using opioids," he says. "In
my experience, cannabis use leads
to enough eіndorphin dysfunction
that I would be concerned it would
lead to opioid use. All we know is
that experienced opioid users use
less opioids when on THC, which is
probably due to the THC having
Medical marijuana is now approved to treat opioid addition.
BY EDEN LAIKIN AND PATRICK MCINTYRE
"Medical marijuana has been shown to be
an effective treatment for pain that may also
reduce the chance of opioid dependence,"
says New York State Health Commissioner