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Rhode Island Officials Reject Opioid Dependency as Qualifier for Medical Cannabis

The Health Department’s reasoning is that chronic pain is already covered.

Rhode Island Officials Reject Opioid Dependency as Qualifier for Medical Cannabis
Brian Goodman/ Shutterstock

The Rhode Island Department of Health has rejected a request to add opioid dependency to the list of conditions that qualify a patient for the state’s medical marijuana program. In a decision released last week, Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott wrote that chronic pain, the reason most opioids are prescribed to patients, is already a qualifying condition to use medical marijuana.

“As a result,” wrote Scott in her April 22 decision, the department “does not believe it is necessary to add OUD [opioid use disorder] as a qualifying condition.”

The B&B Medical Marijuana Evaluation Center requested earlier this year that the health department add opioid addiction to the state’s list of qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana. The center is the only facility authorized by the state of Rhode Island to issue medical cannabis recommendations, with locations in the cities of Warwick and Pawtucket.

Not Enough Research

In February, the health department held a hearing on the request from B&B. Most of the information offered at the hearing focused on the ability of cannabis to relieve chronic pain. Scott wrote that a review of the available research “did not yield evidence to support the use of medical marijuana as an effective treatment for OUD, nor did it find evidence that including OUD as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana would save lives.”

Scott also noted that there are other medications including methadone and buprenorphine that have already been approved as an effective treatment for addiction to opioids. She added that the health department would revisit the issue in one to two years “to determine if new evidence has emerged to support the use of medical marijuana as a treatment option” for opioid dependency.

The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes was approved by the Rhode Island state legislature in 2007. To qualify for the program, a patient must have one of several qualifying medical conditions including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, or be receiving any treatment for those conditions. Patients can also qualify for the use of medicinal cannabis if they have any “debilitating disease or medical condition” causing numerous side effects such as nausea, pain, or muscle spasms.

Earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo reluctantly conceded that Rhode Island should join its neighboring states in the legalization, regulation, and taxation of recreational cannabis.

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