HARTFORD, CT—The Board of Physicians Monday voted not to add opioid use disorder and opiate withdrawal to the list of conditions eligible for medical marijuana in Connecticut.
If Connecticut had added opioid use disorder and opiate withdrawal it would have been the third state in the country to allow medical pot to treat it. The two states that currently allow it are New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Board members said deciding not to add opioid use disorder and opiate withdrawal to the growing medical marijuana program was difficult for them because, they said, everyone is aware of the opioid crisis in both the state and the country.
However, board member and assistant professor of the Department of Surgery at UConn Health Linda Barry said her research told her it wasn’t a good idea.
“There is sparse evidence on the medical side of medical marijuana treating opioid abuse,” Barry said.
“A lot of states do not advocate this, Barry stated.
“The anecdotal evidence is compelling,” Barry conceded, but “It’s very hard to say let’s do this and assume it will be a panacea for people.”
Barry said she doesn’t believe adding opioid use disorder and opiate withdrawal to the medical marijuana program will reduce opioid deaths in the state, which topped 1,000 in 2017.
“There is no monitoring” of the medical pot program, Barry noted, adding, “This is the one area where research is so necessary.”
Other board members agreed with Barry’s assessment.
Deepak Cyril Dsouza, board member and professor of Psychiatry at Yale University and a renowned expert on opioid abuse, said he had concerns adding opioid treatment to the medical program because it may fuel the “opioid addiction problem.”
The board’s decision came after a February hearing, when the board was asked by many testifying to add it to the list of approved diseases.
“Our opioid overdose rates are rising greatly every day on an hourly basis, so if we have any potential option to reduce those risks for people and their families then we should look at it more wholeheartedly than they were today,” Christina Capitan, a patient liaison and community advocate for Prime Wellness of Connecticut, said at the February hearing.
Capitan’s company is one of nine distributors of medical marijuana in the state.
At the February hearing, members of the community spoke about their personal experiences with opioid addiction and how cannabis extracts improved their pain, allowing them to embark on a path to recovery. Some pharmacists also suggested that the addition of the condition would enable data collection.
A handful of people objected to the inclusion of opioid use disorder and opiate withdrawal as an approved condition at the February meeting. They suggested exercise and diet would be just as helpful to the population.
The board tabled its decision back in February saying they wanted to seek further input from the addiction and mental health community before adding it to the list of conditions approved to purchase the drug.
That input received from medical professionals is what the board read and talked about Monday before deciding not to add opioid use disorder to the medical pot program.
No further testimony, either in favor or against, adding opioid use disorder and opiate withdrawal, to the medical marijuana program, was allowed during Monday’s board deliberation.
The board did vote Monday to recommend adding chronic neuropathic pain associated with degenerative spinal disorders for adult patients to the medical marijuana program.
As of Monday, there are more than 26,400 medical marijuana patients in the state and 913 prescribing physicians.
There are now 23 conditions that may qualify adults for Connecticut’s Medical Marijuana Program, and 6 conditions for patients under 18.
There are nine dispensaries and four growers.
Consumer Protection Commissioner Michele H. Seagull said the program has “remained busy and has grown successfully.”
She noted that in the recent request for bids to build between 3-10 more dispensaries the state received 73 applications.
“This is much more (applications) than we’ve gotten anytime in the past,” Seagull said.
She said her team is diligently reviewing the applications stating the state is looking for “controlled and responsible growth” of the medical pot program.
She added that one of the goals of the program is to make sure the dispensaries are located in the right geographic areas to handle all of the state’s medical marijuana patients.
Currently, there are two medical marijuana dispensaries in Milford, and one each in Bristol, Waterbury, Branford, South Windsor, Hartford, Bethel, and Uncasville.