New York Moves To Replace Opioids With Medical Marijuana

By Kelly Burch 08/07/18

Opioid use disorder has been added to the list of qualifying conditions that medical cannabis can be used to treat in the state.

doctor holding medical marijuana

Officials in New York have changed medical marijuana policy in order to make it easier for patients to access medical cannabis in lieu of opioids, and have added opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions that medical cannabis can be used to treat. 

The New York Department of Health announced the expansion on July 12. Under the emergency regulations, any condition that could be prescribed an opioid is now a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. 

“Effective immediately, registered practitioners may certify patients to use medical marijuana as a replacement for opioids, provided that the precise underlying condition for which an opioid would otherwise be prescribed is stated on the patient's certification,” the state’s press release said. “This allows patients with severe pain that doesn't meet the definition of chronic pain to use medical marijuana as a replacement for opioids.”

The expansion also allows people who are being treated for opioid use disorder in a qualified treatment setting to be issued a medical marijuana license to use cannabis as a replacement for opioids. 

Only 12 other medical conditions are currently listed as qualifying conditions for medical cannabis, so the expansion could have a significant effect on New York’s medical marijuana system. At the time of the announcement, just over 62,000 New Yorkers had a medical marijuana license, according to the health department.  

Lawmakers hope that by expanding access to medical marijuana, they can reduce the number of opioids prescribed in the state. 

"Medical marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment for pain that may also reduce the chance of opioid dependence," said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. "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.”

Additional changes will make it easier for people to access medical cannabis after they are approved for the program. Lawmakers hope that this will help reduce overdose deaths from opioids. 

"I have been strongly advocating to remove barriers and allow the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids because it will help patients, reduce the number of highly addictive opioids in circulation, and ultimately, it will save lives,” state Senator George Amedore, co-chair of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction said in a June press release.

“We continue to be faced with an opioid epidemic that is devastating communities throughout our state. It's important we continue to do everything possible to address this issue from all sides, so I'm glad the Department of Health is taking this measure that will help high risk patients, as well as those that are struggling with, or have overcome, addiction."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.