Let pot help to reduce opioid abuse - Albuquerque Journal

Let pot help to reduce opioid abuse

Before the governor is a profound opportunity to help New Mexico address the opioid overdose epidemic. On Susana Martinez’s desk is House Bill 527, which would make changes to the Lynn Pierson and Erin Armstrong Compassionate Use Act, our state medical cannabis law. These changes include adding opioid use disorder as a medical condition that would allow someone to legally access medical cannabis in a safe, state-regulated system.

Sponsored by the top-ranking Republican in the N.M. House of Representatives, HB 527 represents cooperation of members of both the major political parties and both state houses, dozens of community stakeholders, the Department of Health, and the Office of the Governor. And it is the first time the state Legislature has successfully amended the statute since it was passed in 2007.

Research has shown that medical cannabis is not only an effective pain treatment, it can also reduce the use of opioids and reduce the number of opioid-related overdose deaths. Last fall Anita Briscoe, a New Mexico-based psychiatric nurse practitioner with decades of clinical experience, petitioned the Department of Health to add opioid use disorder the list of qualifying conditions. Briscoe, who grew up in Española seeing the devastation opioid misuse can cause, and two colleagues collected patient survey data from New Mexicans using cannabis to help ease pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms like nausea and vomiting. Briscoe’s survey of 400 patients showed that 25 percent reported being able to discontinue opioid use with the aid of cannabis. The petition was reviewed by the eight-member board of doctors, appointed by the state, who are tasked with evaluating additional diseases and symptoms for medical cannabis eligibility. The board voted overwhelmingly to recommend approval to add opioid use disorder to the list of medical conditions that are eligible for medical cannabis in New Mexico. And just this month, two faculty members at the University of New Mexico, Dr. Jacob Vigil and Dr. Sarah Stith, released findings from a study they conducted where they observed patients who had access to medical cannabis reduce their opioid use by 31 percent, while people in the control group saw a slight increase in opioid use. To ensure that patients’ self-reporting was accurate, the researchers corroborated the survey data with reports pulled from the state’s prescription drug monitoring database for each patient.

I urge the governor to sign HB 527 without delay since opioid overdose deaths are the leading cause of accidental death statewide in New Mexico, more than gun deaths and traffic fatalities.

We need medical cannabis as another tool to address the opioid overdose crisis. The governor needs to sign HB 527 to protect New Mexico’s families.


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