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article imageMedical pot can now be used to treat opioid addiction in N.J.

By Karen Graham     Jan 25, 2019 in Health
On Wednesday, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced a broad attack on opioid addiction by adding it to the list of illnesses that qualify residents for medical marijuana.
The governor made his announcement at a press conference at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, adding the initiative also expanded Medicaid coverage for medication-assisted treatment, a scientifically proven method of preventing relapses. The announcement comes at a time when the opioid crisis reaches new heights in the Garden State.
According to state data, at least 3,100 people died from opioid overdoses in 2018, setting a record for the fourth straight year. Murphy did point out that the increase in the percentage rate wasn't as sharp as in previous years - going from a 15 percent rise from 2017 to 2018, compared to the 24 percent rise from 2016 to 2017.
"But we should take little solace the percentage went down," Murphy said. "They are God’s children, and they are gone forever.” The state's Department of Health said physicians may begin recommending medical marijuana for opioid addiction immediately.
“We are pleased to announce that, as of today, opioid use disorder is a condition for which physicians can recommend medical marijuana to patients,” Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the state health commissioner, said. “We are also taking steps to ensure that these patients will be on MAT for their addiction, in addition to marijuana.”
In New Jersey, medical marijuana is allowed for people with chronic pain issues, and individuals addicted to opioids could only qualify for medical marijuana if they became opioid-dependent while treating chronic pain caused by a musculoskeletal disorder.
Public health officials contend that smoking cannabis is as harmful as tobacco  but welcome the oppo...
Public health officials contend that smoking cannabis is as harmful as tobacco, but welcome the opportunity legalization affords for open dialogue
Lars Hagberg, AFP/File
In a press release, State Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal noted that the health department had been exploring adding opioid addiction to the list of qualifying conditions in October. At the time, he said: We “should consider marijuana as another appropriate treatment for patients with many medical conditions, especially diseases for which conventional therapies aren’t working for their patients.”
Elnahal also pointed out there were scientific studies that showed a lower overdose death rate and a lower rate of opioid prescribing in states where medical marijuana was legalized.
He added, “We are also taking steps to ensure that these patients will be on medication-assisted treatment for their addiction, in addition to marijuana," he added. "Finally, DOH is doubling down on syringe access programs and initiatives to reduce opioid prescribing, proven methods for reducing the impact of opioid addiction.”
Campaigners for the medical use of cannabis outside the Houses of Parliament in central London
Campaigners for the medical use of cannabis outside the Houses of Parliament in central London
Adrian DENNIS, AFP
Opioid epidemic and medical cannabis
America's opioid epidemic is the worst public health crisis in our history - with more people dying than at the peak of the AIDS epidemic, and for the first time, drug overdoses outnumber automobile and handgun deaths.
One such study, entitled "Emerging Evidence for Cannabis' Role in Opioid Use Disorder," published on September 1, 2018, explored cannabis' potential to prevent opioid misuse (as an analgesic alternative), alleviate opioid withdrawal symptoms, and decrease the likelihood of relapse.
The study found that there is growing pre-clinical and clinical evidence that appears to support the use of cannabis for mitigating the effects of withdrawal from opioids as well as the reduction of pain.
In another study, “Research suggests that people are using cannabis as an exit drug to reduce the use of substances that are potentially more harmful, such as opioid pain medication," said lead author Zach Walsh, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.
Today, 28 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis, despite the DEA classifying cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance, in the same category as heroin.
More about New jersey, opioid addiction, Medical Marijuana, treatment guidelines, opioid use disorder
 
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