New Yorkers May Now Replace Opioid Prescriptions With Medical Marijuana

Anyone who has an opioid prescription in New York just became eligible for medical cannabis.

One month after announcing it would dramatically overhaul qualifying conditions for medical cannabis use, the New York State Health Department of Health announced Thursday that it had filed emergency regulations instituting the new policy. Effective immediately, New Yorkers may now replace opioid prescriptions with medical marijuana.

New York’s Massive Medical Marijuana Expansion Just Went Into Effect

The number of New Yorkers who qualify for medical cannabis recommendations just skyrocketed. As of July 12, any condition for which a doctor can prescribe an opioid now counts as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis.

The new regulation has major implications for patient access across the state. Beyond approving marijuana as a replacement for opioids, the rules expand the definition of qualifying pain disorders.

Before the emergency regulations took effect yesterday, New York permitted chronic pain as one of its qualifying conditions. But there are other severe pain disorders that don’t fall under that definition.

Yet physicians often prescribe pharmaceutical opioids for those severe pain disorders also. And over-prescribing is a contributing factor of the rising tide of opioid use and abuse across the US.

Can Expanded Qualifying Conditions Reduce Prescription Opioid Use in New York?

Between 2013 and 2016, New Yorkers died at a 135 percent higher rate in opioid-related deaths. In 2016, the state ranked two points higher than the national rate.

The State Health Department hopes the new provision to its Compassionate Care Act will accomplish two things. Helping to expand access to the state’s struggling medical cannabis program while simultaneously addressing New York’s ongoing struggle with prescription opioid abuse.

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said as much last month when he announced that the Dept. of Health was finalizing the rule change.

In the announcement, Zucker expressed a hope that the changes would help individuals to “hopefully come off prescription opioids“.

Studies attest to the effectiveness of cannabis for treating chronic pain. As does substantial patient testimony. And that evidence has made chronic pain one of the most common qualifying conditions for medical cannabis, next to epilepsy.

There are a few exceptions to the consensus, however. Last week, Australian researchers published the results of a 4-year-long cohort study that cast doubt on the effectiveness of cannabis as a chronic pain treatment.

NY DOH Hopes Medical Marijuana Will Ween New Yorkers Off Opioids

New York’s recent policy revisions have consistently increased health practitioners’ ability to prescribe medical cannabis for pain disorders.

And their latest move frees doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for the same non-chronic pain symptoms for which they might otherwise prescribe opioids like OxyContin, Vicodin and Fentanyl.

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