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Arizona Medical Marijuana Program Expansion May Help Combat Opioid Epidemic

Within the first few weeks of 2018, the state of Arizona began accepting petitions to add additional medical conditions to its existing list of those that qualify a patient to legally participate in the state’s approved medical marijuana program. Many advocates of expanding the list of qualifying conditions for receiving legal medical marijuana assert that it could help to combat the state’s ongoing opioid crisis.

The prime argument in favor of this action’s potential to help fight the opioid epidemic Arizona currently faces is that more people may seek out medical marijuana treatment for their medical conditions than opioids. As no proven addictive effects have been found with marijuana, it is believed by many to be a far less harmful treatment option than highly addictive opioids. Moreover, any negative health effects attributed to marijuana are far less severe, by and large, than those associated with opioids, with the exception, perhaps, of the harmful effects of smoking. Alternative cannabis intake methods, however, such as marijuana edibles and vaporizing (or “vaping”) can ameliorate, or even eliminate, those risks as well.

Twice each year, in January and July, the ADHS (Arizona Department of Health Services) accepts petitions from the public to expand its list of debilitating medical conditions. Organizations and individual patients may submit information on particular illnesses, including their symptoms, prognoses, conventional treatment options and scientific research and evidence supporting medical marijuana’s potential efficacy as a treatment. Call Green Dream Doctors Phoenix or Tucson locations for more information on medical marijuana card. After receiving all the petitions submitted for a particular period, the ADHS reviews them and, if a petition adheres to the state’s guidelines, holds a public hearing to move forward the potential inclusion of that condition on the debilitating medical conditions list.

The ADHS reports that over 362,650 prescriptions for opioid medications were dispensed in the state of Arizona in the month of December 2017 alone. In April of 2018, 383,321 prescriptions for opioids were dispensed in Arizona. Between June 15, 2017 and the time of the first 2018 petition period, in January, Arizona experienced 820 deaths and 5,512 overdoses suspected to be opioid related. By the time a May 2018 ADHS Opioid Report was released, that number jumped to 7,604 possible opioid related overdoses, 16 percent of which were fatal. Of the Arizona residents suspected of overdosing from opioids in the month of April 2018, 41 percent were found to have received opioid prescriptions from 10 or more doctors in 2017. Yet only 35.5 percent, barely more than a third, of those doctors were found to have looked up whether a patient had other outstanding opioid prescriptions with other doctors in the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program.

Incidents of opioid overdoses and related death were highest among men over women, at 59 percent versus 41 percent, and the region of the state with the highest incidence of opioid overdoses and deaths was Maricopa County, at 4,674, followed by Pima County, at 1,309. There were between 102 and 338 opioid overdoses and deaths in each of Mohave, Yavapai, Pinal and Yuma Counties. The remaining counties in Arizona had 101 or less. Furthermore, in this same period, 730 babies were born in Arizona experiencing possible withdrawal symptoms related to the mother’s opioid usage. There were 4,917 doses of nalaxone administered outside of hospitals by emergency medical workers, law enforcement officers and others, with pharmacies distributing 14,854 nalaxone kits to the public.

In mid January of 2018, Arizona’s Governor, Doug Ducey, signed into law new guidelines aimed at addressing the problem in the state of opioid abuse. Among the new law’s provisions is a limitation on the number of days a doctor can write an initial opioid medication prescription for to five. Moreover, a doctor can only prescribe opioids to a patient for a maximum of 30 days. The law also grants immunity from legal prosecution or punishment to people abusing or involved in another’s abuse of opioids if that person calls 911 emergency services to report that someone is having an opioid overdose.

While other states work to address their opioid crises by placing greater restrictions on how prescription medications are administered, states like Arizona are looking at the potential for cannabis to help remedy the problem. Arizona’s northerly neighbor, New Mexico, recently ran a study on marijuana’s efficacy in combating its state’s opioid crisis. The study involved more than 400 patients already addicted to opioids and a team of psychiatrists and related professionals. What they found was that a fourth of participants were successfully able to eliminate their opioid addiction through use of marijuana. Time Magazine backs up these findings with a recent report of doctors prescribing 1,826 fewer doses of opioid medications on average in states were marijuana is legal.

This semiannual expansion period for the debilitating medical conditions list can help to fill gaps in treatment by identifying conditions overlooked when the program was first established. An example of such a condition is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which did not appear on the initial list. Doctors heavily prescribed opioids to returning soldiers who then became addicted to their medications until cannabis helped provide safer, effective PTSD treatment and a means of kicking their opioid addiction. Team at Green Dream Doctors are here to help. Please visit our Phoenix location at 3001 W Indian School rd Ste #311 or our Tucson location 3502 S 6th Ave, Ste #120 Tucson, AZ 85713 conveniently located right accross from VA hospital on 6th ave.

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