NEW YORK – The New York Department of Health is adding opioid addiction to the state's list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The announcement was made through a press release Monday, June 18 and will allow both patients and addicts an alternative to opioid prescription painkillers and other black-market opioids.
The Health Commissioner of the state of New York, Dr. Howard Zucker said in the release that an unprecedented opioid crisis has hit New York.
"It is critical to ensure that providers have as many options as possible to treat patients in the most effective way. 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," Zucker said.
Numbers on Opioid Addiction
The New York State Department of Health says more than 1,000 people died because of an opioid overdose in 2010, a number that increased to more than 3,000 in 2016.
According to the health department, medical marijuana decreases the risk of dependence and is an efficient alternative to prescription opioid painkillers. It is also safer than opioids and eliminates deaths from overdoses because no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose.
At least 175 people die daily from an opioid overdose and nearly 1 million people could die by 2020 without action. Former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler says that the nation has to understand the dangers associated with opioids.
"In acute pain, they can be vital. Outside of that and outside of cancer pain, they are deadly," he said speaking about opioids.
Studies show states with a medical marijuana program have at least 25 percent fewer opioid deaths than states without legal marijuana. Nearly 6 percent less opioid painkiller prescriptions are written in these states on average.
The health department says that by adding prescription opioid use and addiction to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, patients will have the option to use marijuana for pain instead of fatal and addictive narcotics.
Opioid use will be added the list of qualifying conditions that include AIDS/HIV, ALS, cancer, epilepsy, Huntington's disease, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, neuropathy, Parkinson's disease, PTSD, spinal cord injuries, and chronic pain.
Richard N. Gottfried is the Chairman of the Assembly Health Committee and says it’s important to provide alternatives to fatal prescription drugs.
"Evidence from across the country shows that access to medical marijuana for pain treatment reduces the use of much more dangerous opioids," he said.
Senator George Amedore, who is the co-chair of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, agrees and says medical marijuana helps patients and decreases the number of prescribed addictive drugs floating around noting, "Ultimately, it will save lives."