Terminally Ill Veteran Denied Pain Meds Over Positive Marijuana Test

By McCarton Ackerman 09/11/15

Gary Dixon has stage IV lung cancer thanks to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Gary Dixon
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A disabled and terminally ill Vietnam veteran with cancer has attracted plenty of sympathy nationwide after being denied pain medication because of a positive marijuana test.

Kansas native Gary Dixon, 65, was exposed to Agent Orange while in Vietnam and now has stage IV lung cancer. He has been taking 10 to 15 pills a day for pain relief and attending stroke group therapy sessions, but was told for the first time by the Veterans Administration (VA) office that he would have to take a urine test and sign an opiate consent form. After admitting that he still smokes marijuana, he was denied the pain medication.

New VA guidelines state that veterans can either get painkiller prescriptions or use marijuana, but can’t do both, even in states like Kansas where medical marijuana is legal. It also requires signing an opiate consent form, which highlights the negative effects of mixing painkillers with marijuana.

“I hurt and I hurt from something I got fighting for my country,” said Dixon to KSNT News. “I have always had marijuana in my blood and will continue to have it in my blood.” He said that he will now look to find $400 monthly to buy the prescriptions out-of-pocket.

Dr. Daniel Cline, chief of ambulance with the Kansas VA, said the policy change was made because both marijuana and painkillers “are two things that decrease your alertness” and mixing the two is highly dangerous. He also admitted not being able to say “with 100% certainty” that Dixon could get his medication back if he stopped smoking.

The move by the VA is particularly surprising because the Senate voted last May to approve an amendment that will allow Department of Veterans Affairs physicians to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. All 14 Democrats on the panel voted in support of the amendment, as well as four Republicans.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.