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Steady growth has characterized Arizona’s medical marijuana program over the past few years, and 2017 was no exception as the state reinforced its position as one of the nation’s largest MMJ markets. Arizona’s MMJ program added over 38,000 patients to its rolls over the course of the year – a 34% increase – firmly establishing…
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Cannabis might work as a treatment for opiate addiction. A state anti-opiate hotline won’t recommend it
Using cannabis instead of opiates could save lives, studies say, but Arizona’s new opioid hotline for health care providers — and, soon, for the public — won’t recommend it as an alternative.
The free Arizona Opioid Assistance and Referral Line is set to go live in a few days. It will be “one of the nation’s first real-time, comprehensive hotlines for healthcare providers seeking consultation for complex patients with pain and opioid use disorder,” according to a state news release.
But one treatment option the health care providers and patients won’t hear about on the hotline is medical marijuana.
“It’s not part of the protocol,” said Dr. Dan Brooks, medical director for the Banner Poison and Drug Information Centers. “We don’t have any initial plans to talk about marijuana” as a treatment option.
The hotline is viewed as one possible piece to solving a crisis that has caused bodies to pile up at morgues around the country. More people than ever are dying from the abuse of heroin, pills like OxyContin, or synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Arizona alone had 942 suspected opioid deaths from June 15 to February 22, according to the state’s Opioid Epidemic web page.
“Preventing opioid overdoses and deaths in our state needs a multifaceted approach, and the new hotline is a major step forward as it will give medical providers immediate access to experts who can help to ensure safe prescribing and to identify treatment options for patients, which may or may not include opioids,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, says in the release.
“No two patients are the same and treatments vary based on individual needs, so we need to make sure we are providing tailored resources to our medical community.”
The state DHS and Poison and Drug Information Centers plan to create new advice for health care providers. Recommendations will include “specific opioid-related information for providers, such as safe prescribing limits for opioid-naive patients, identification of potentially dangerous drug combinations, and chronic pain treatment options,” the release says.
For some patients, the hotline experts may advise the use of drugs like methadone or Vivitrol but not marijuana
Not that the nurses, doctors, and pharmacists who answer the 24-hour hotline won’t talk about cannabis at all.
“If they have questions about marijuana, we’ll answer questions,” Brooks said.”I don’t know anyone who’s advising marijuana as an alternative.”
Yet cannabis, some experts point out, has been effective in treating pain, and could be considered an advisable substitute for opiates.
Studies show that states with medical-marijuana and adult-use legalization laws have seen sharp drop-offs in their opiate overdose deaths. (None of the studies have so far included a look at Arizona’s statistics, it seems.)
Will Humble, former state DHS director and executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, stopped short of saying the hotline should recommend cannabis as a specific treatment option for specific patients. But clearly, he said, the staff should talk about its potential benefits as an opiate alternative.
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Howard Fischer / Capitol Media Services SB-1420 PHOENIX — Sometime next year, medical marijuana users could get a guarantee of sorts that the drugs they are buying are as good as they’ve been promised. And they’ll know if it has mold, disease-causing bacteria or other adulterants. With only three lawmakers in dissent, the Senate voted…
A bill at the Arizona Legislature would mandate state-regulated testing for medical cannabis, lower patient registration fees, and make other improvements to the 2010 law.
Arizona rips off medical-marijuana patients by collecting fees that are much higher than what it costs for the state Department of Health Services to run the program.
Last year, for instance, DHS could have funded its $11.7 million in expenditures by collecting $5.7 million from patients. Instead, the state agency collected $18.9 million from them. The extra money went into a useless overflow account that now sits at more than $33 million.
“I wish I would have thought about writing the rule to include a variable fee.” — Former Arizona DHS Director Will Humble
A bill co-sponsored by nearly the entire Legislature, Senate Bill 1420, would change the equation. It would bring down the cost of a medical marijuana card from $150 a year to something more reasonable — something lower-income or fixed-income people could afford.
For many people, the best part is that it would also mandate state-regulated testing for mold and other contaminants in medical marijuana.
But would the bill trade the state program’s high annual surpluses for annual deficits that could end up costing taxpayers?