The Rhode Island Department of Health is considering adding opioid dependency to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The DOH held the first and only public hearing on the controversial matter Wednesday.
At issue is whether medical marijuana should be an option for people hoping to get off opioids, or avoid prescription usage.
Some forty people showed up, though only about a dozen people spoke. Most of those who spoke were in favor of the proposal, and most were involved in the medical marijuana industry. Those included caregivers, consultants, and a doctor.
“Adding medical marijuana has really helped accelerate, folks get off their opioids or at least reduce their load of the milligrams that they’re taking every day,” said Dr. Lucille Vega, a primary care physician who works in Rhode Island.
Vega has also worked with B and B Consulting, a Rhode Island-based medical marijuana consulting business, which created the petition now being considered.
“I’ve noticed, for prescription medication, each pill is lasting that much longer,” Vega said of using medical marijuana in conjunction with an opioid prescription. “And if they reach for cannabis, before the next pill of Vicodin, or opioid. Next thing you know, I’m using medical marijuana in place of the opioids.”
Supporters say there is plenty of anecdotal proof that medical marijuana can help ween people off opioids. Additionally, B and B Consulting, included research that pointed to decrease in opioid prescriptions among Medicare recipients in states with medical marijuana policies.
But opponents in the medical and addiction recovery community say there isn’t enough evidence to prove any correlation between the two issues.
“Review of peer-reviewed outcome literature demonstrates that cannabis represents a substantial risk to vulnerable populations, and it is not a safe, viable treatment alternative as presented in this position,” said Dr. John Femino, a physician who works in addiction medicine.
Both supporters and opponents say the issue here is ending opioid addiction and overdose; though they disagree over the use of marijuana in that fight. The proposal is now in the hands of the Department of Health, which is expected to make a decision sometime this spring.