On 4/20, remember Texas medical marijuana law can save lives

Roughly every four hours, Chase Bearden’s body would remind him to take his pain medication. Bearden, who broke his neck in an accident nearly 30 years ago and uses a wheelchair, had grown accustomed to the routine. His legs would begin twitching, his muscles would ache, so he would head out to his truck and swallow hydrocodone pills to numb the pain. 

By 2017, Bearden, 45, had been taking prescription opioids for more than a decade.

One trip to Colorado changed his life. While visiting the state – where marijuana is legal recreationally – with a friend, he tried a small dose of a tincture, a liquid, cannabis-infused product. After 15 minutes, his muscles relaxed and his over-stimulated nerves stopped firing. The next day, he halved his pill dosage. Within weeks, he had shaken a decade-long opioid drug habit. Four years later, owing to Texas’ relatively nascent medical marijuana program, Bearden’s quality of life has improved tremendously. 

“Once I was off of opioids, my health rebounded, my eyes were clear, even my mom noticed,” Bearden, now the deputy executive director of the Coalition for Texans with Disabilities, told the editorial board. “That’s why we wanted this program to be regulated, because what’s important about this is it’s removing the stigma from it so that you can work one on one with your doctor.”

At a time when thousands of Texans are dying of drug overdoses and overdose deaths involving fentanyl have ballooned by 399 percent since 2019, having a state-of-the-art medical marijuana program is not just some glorified marketplace for stoners; it’s a potential life-saving necessity. Several recent studies have found that having access to medical marijuana leads to decreases in prescription opioid use as well as improvements in physical and mental health. 

This research is encouraging lawmakers to finally give patients more options for pain management than endless supplies of pills. A bill sponsored by state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, would allow physicians to prescribe medicinal cannabis instead of opioids for patients battling chronic pain. The bill authorizes the Department of State Health Services to add more medical conditions to the program through the agency’s rulemaking process. Critically, for patients with severe pain management needs, it would also increase the amount of THC — the substance in marijuana that is effective against pain, depression, anxiety and other maladies — to 10 milligrams per dosage unit. The limit is currently 1 percent by weight. Advocates say this volumetric change allows THC to be delivered more efficiently, without the additives of oil or sugar that can cause gastrointestinal issues. 

Klick’s bill, which the House approved on a 127-19 vote last week, would be a massive improvement on a program that remains one of the most restrictive in the nation. In the eight years since the Texas Legislature established its Compassionate Use Program, managed by the Department of Public Safety, expansion has been glacial. Despite adding to the list of qualifying conditions in the previous two legislative sessions — Bearden’s spasticity didn’t qualify until 2019 — the program has licensed only three dispensaries to serve roughly 50,000 patients. By comparison, medical marijuana programs in neighboring states such as Oklahoma serve more than 370,000 patients with hundreds of dispensaries to choose from. 

The limitations of Texas’ medical marijuana program are excessive. Patients require a doctor’s prescription if they have a qualifying condition but must pay exorbitant out-of-pocket costs for any marijuana dosage, since Texas has such a limited dispensary market and health insurers don’t cover it. Even as lawmakers have expanded the program, many common medical conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s Disease, still don’t qualify. The meager dosage of medical cannabis available to those who need it – the state currently only allows 0.5 percent THC – means that patients end up paying a fortune for repeat prescriptions just to manage their pain. Some patients may drop out of the program entirely, seeking relief with more readily available and highly addictive prescription pills or other drugs on the black market. 

Raising the THC limit alone would make a significant difference, yet some doctors say that even a 10 milligram dosage falls short of the needs for patients in severe pain. During a House committee hearing last month, Matthew Brimberry, a hospice and palliative care physician who is active in the medical marijuana program, noted the irony that he is authorized to prescribe morphine and benzodiazepines that are highly addictive with brutal side effects, yet can’t prescribe a high-dosage cannabis gummy for a cancer patient. 

“If I am afforded that leeway with those dangerous medicines, I feel like as a physician, with my medical judgment and knowledge, I should be able to prescribe a concentrated medicine that is safe and effective and not as addictive,” Brimberry said. 

We agree, and while we urge the Senate to pass Klick’s bill, the ultimate goal for the program should be to serve every Texan with a substantial pain management need that over-the-counter aspirin or Tylenol can’t fix. Bringing more people into the program would lower the price of prescriptions — which can range from $300 to $1,000 — and allow the state to license more dispensaries that can serve a broader geographic region. The three licensed dispensaries are all in Central Texas. Patients who live elsewhere can get products delivered, though that can also be costly. In January, DPS announced it was opening the application process up to potentially add more dispensaries, which will be all the more necessary if Klick’s bill is signed into law and thousands of chronic pain patients have access to the program.

Texas’ pot prohibitions have long frustrated us and it’s time for a broader public debate about legalization. Having a narrowly-tailored medical marijuana program made some sense eight years ago as it was just getting off the ground. Now that the basic infrastructure is in place, along with a high demand for product, at a minimum, the state should be doing everything in its power to build out a safe, regulated program that allows people with chronic pain to achieve a better quality of life. 

Read more here: Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *