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STEVE ELLIOTT

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There’s new hope for New Yorkers who suffer from chronic pain.

Patients with chronic pain will be able to legally use medical marijuana to relieve their symptoms, the New York Department of Health announced on Thursday, reports Matthew Hamilton at the Times Union.

Kassandra Frederique chronic pain
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Kassandra Frederique,
Drug Policy Alliance:

“I think it is fair to say that this could affect thousands of patients in New York”
[Drug Policy Alliance]

The addition to New York’s strict list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana is one of the biggest steps the state has yet taken to expand the medical marijuana program.

“I think patients in New York deserve to run a victory lap over this,” said Kassandra Frederique, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), reports Glenn Blain at the New York Daily News. “I think it is fair to say that this could affect thousands of patients in New York.”

While it’s still a bit unclear which exact types of chronic pain might be treatable under New York’s medicinal cannabis rules, the department is at work on a regulatory amendment to specify which patients will qualify. That amendment will be published soon, for 45 days of public comment , the New York DOH said.

Already on New York’s list of 10 treatable conditions by cannabis are cancer, HIV or AIDS, epilepsy, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, spinal damage, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, and Huntington’s disease.

The addition of chronic pain followed a long review by the DOH and comes as it also moves to allow nurse practitioners (last month) and now physician assistants to certify patients for the medical marijuana program, among the strictest in the nation.

The program has drawn criticism from both patients and advocates for its unnecessary restrictiveness, reports Joseph Spector at WGRZ.

Nurse practitioners must take a DOH-approved course on medical marijuana online, and submit their certificate of completion using the instructions provided on the Department’s website, reports Erica Davies at NBC New York. Physician assistants will be allowed to certify patients for medical marijuana as long as their supervising doctor is also registered to certify patients.

Dr. Howard Zucker, New York Department of Health: "Quote" [Stony Brook University]
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Dr. Howard Zucker, New York Department of Health:
“Medical marijuana is already helping thousands of patients across New York State, and adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition will help more patients and further strengthen the program”
[Stony Brook University]

The state is also considering expanding the number of companies allowed to sell and grow medicinal cannabis, as well as making public the list of doctors who can authorize patients to use it.

“After conducting a thorough review of the scientific literature, it became clear that there may be certain benefits in the use of medical marijuana by patients suffering from chronic pain,” said state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “Medical marijuana is already helping thousands of patients across New York State, and adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition will help more patients and further strengthen the program.”

Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who fought long and hard for the medical marijuana law in the first place, praised the latest moves to expand the program.

Rep. Richard Gottfried: "Quote" [Crain's New York Business / Associated Press]
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Rep. Richard Gottfried:
“Expanding the list of eligible conditions will help thousands of New Yorkers ease their suffering with an alternative to opioid drugs, which are dangerous, addictive, and have serious side effects”
[Crain’s New York Business / Associated Press]

“Allowing physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) to certify patients for medical marijuana will help thousands of New Yorkers who use PAs or NPs as their health care providers and who could benefit from medical use or marijuana,” Rep. Gottfried said. “It appropriately reflects their long-recognized scope of practice. Expanding the list of eligible conditions to include chronic pain will help thousands of New Yorkers ease their suffering with an alternative to opioid drugs, which are dangerous, addictive, and have serious side effects.”

In an interview earlier this week, Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, medical director at Dent Neurologic Institute and chief of neuro-oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute talked about the importance of adding chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions, reports Tracey Drury at Buffalo Business First. He pointed to patient numbers in Colorado, which has a population one quarter the size of New York’s and 300,000 patients receiving medical marijuana. Nearly 93 percent of those certified patients use the drug for chronic pain.

Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, Dent Neurologic Institute: "Quote" [The Buffalo News]
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Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, Dent Neurologic Institute:
“That will dramatically change everything as we know it here”
[The Buffalo News]

“That will dramatically change everything as we know it here,” Dr. Mechtler said. “If you want to make this program fiscally healthy with some collateral productivity in regard to taxes, then you have to approve it for chronic pain.”

Dent Neurologic’s marijuana clinic currently receives upwards of 50 calls daily from patients who want to become certified to receive cannabis. The clinic has treated 350 patients since January at the marijuana clinic at its Amherst facility. Mechtler predicted daily calls would increase by tenfold if chronic pain patients had access to medical marijuana.

“If pain is indicated, the 50-70 calls we get will increase to 500,” he said.

Dan Ryszka (right) of Medical Cannabis Connection: "Quote" [Medical Cannabis Connection]
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Dan Ryszka (right) of Medical Cannabis Connection:
“I think it’s going to give people a better qualify of life and help with narcotics abuse”
[Medical Cannabis Connection]

Pharmacist Dan Ryszka, a cofounder of Medical Cannabis Connection Inc., a nonprofit offering information and education for providers, patients and caregivers, is also a pharmacist who has two children receiving medical marijuana for severe epileptic seizures. “I think it’s going to give people a better quality of life and help with narcotics abuse,” Ryszka said. “The patients I talk to, they don’t want to feel that grogginess, but they want to have relief for pain, for fibromyalgia — they just want to feel normal again.”

So far, 10,730 patients have been certified by 750 registered physicians to use medicinal cannabis products to treat their ailments. Adding chronic pain could greatly expand the number of qualifying patients, as it has done in other states.

Dr. Stephen Dahmer, Vireo Health: "Quote" [IB Times]
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Dr. Stephen Dahmer, Vireo Health:
“We applaud the Department of Health’s decision and are ready to serve patients with chronic pain”
[IB Times]

That in turn could be a financial windfall for the five companies authorized to grow and sell non-smokeable marijuana products in New York state (the strict medicinal cannabis law doesn’t allow any smoking or marijuana flowers). Those companies have struggled to become profitable among low patient numbers and expensive prices that have even driven away some who are eligible to participate.

“We applaud the Department of Health’s decision and are ready to serve patients with chronic pain,” said Dr. Stephen Dahmer, chief medical officer of Vireo Health, parent company of Vireo Health of New York, one of the current companies. “We will continue to advocate for measures that improve patient access to dependable and safe medical cannabis and improve the quality of life for New Yorkers suffering from life-threatening and debilitating diseases.”

Vireo Health of New York CEO Ari Hoffnung added the company hopes that medical marijuana can be used to help address “one of the biggest public health challenges facing our State – the opioid crisis.”

 

For more information about the New York medical marijuana program, visit: https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/medical_marijuana/
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