More than 1,100 Connecticut residents have now registered to use medical marijuana, but others have had difficulty finding a doctor participating in the program.
The state’s law allowing the palliative use of marijuana permits people with certain debilitating illnesses to get a recommendation from a doctor if they wish to register with the state to use the substance.
As of Monday, 1,118 people had registered with the Department of Consumer Protection to use medical marijuana.
However, only a small percentage of the state’s physicians, around 100, have signed up with the department to write the patient recommendations. Meanwhile, the medical marijuana law includes a provision which exempts the names of those doctors from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
That means there is no way for patients seeking to participate in the program to locate a doctor willing to consider writing a recommendation unless that doctor has chosen to publicize his or her willingness to prescribe it.
Lorie Kemmling, a 54-year-old Berlin resident who suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome, said she has been trying to locate a doctor participating in the program since the law went into effect about a year ago. So far, she has not been successful.
Kemmling said she asked her own doctor, who told her to direct her inquiries to the state. When she tried that, she said the man she spoke to suggested she search for doctors on Google. Although she found a couple medical practices on a website aggregating doctors who prescribe the drug, she said she has been unable to get an appointment.
Short of leafing through a phone book and calling doctors offices to ask if they prescribe marijuana, Kemmling said she does not see any options.
“I’d love to know how people find this information. I’m at the end of my rope, pulling my hair out, trying to help myself. I don’t know what to do anymore,” she said.
Kemmling, who said she experiences panic attacks, nightmares, and pain, would like to try using medical marijuana to replace some the other medications she is currently on. She said marijuana seemed like a natural alternative to some of her current meds, which said were addictive.
“I want to get off all these addictive meds,” she said. “I don’t want to be on all this garbage. I’d rather be on something natural.”
She questioned why the state could not direct her to a participating doctor.
Claudette Carveth, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Protection Department, said the agency’s disclosure policy with regard to medical marijuana was in line with its policies pertaining to the other drugs it regulates.
“Similar to our treatment of all other medications that fall under the purview of the Department’s Drug Control Division, we are not in the practice of providing information on how to find a doctor that will approve a specific drug for a specific medical condition,” Carveth wrote in an email.
Ken Ferrucci, the Connecticut State Medical Society’s vice president for public policy and governmental affairs, said the doctors association has not had an internal discussion over whether the names of doctors participating should be released. But he said there are good reasons why some of those docs would not want that information publicized.
Doctors may have signed up for the program because they were willing to recommend marijuana for one or two of their longtime patients. But their practices are not set up to meet the demand of an influx of new patients seeking marijuana recommendations, he said.
The hundred or so physicians who have opted to participate in the program make up a fraction of the between 6,000 and 7,000 medical doctors, which Ferrucci estimated are practicing in the Connecticut.
Although he noted that some of those doctors are working in fields where marijuana prescriptions wouldn’t make sense—say pediatrics—Ferrucci said many of the state’s physicians are hesitant to recommend a drug that does not have much in the way of scientific study. He said he expects the percentage of doctors participating will be low, at least at the beginning.
“We’re in a huge gray area here,” he said. “… This is the beginning of what I think you could potentially consider an experiment.”
Ferrucci said patients who believe marijuana will help them should engage in a discussion with their doctors, even if that doctor is not participating in the program. In some cases that doctor may direct the patient elsewhere or talk about why they will not prescribe marijuana. Either way, he said most doctors are willing to have an open and honest dialogue with their patients.