Published On: Mon, Aug 15th, 2016

MA Iraq War veteran sees increased legal marijuana access helping opioid crisis; backed by two recent national reports

Two national studies link increased marijuana access with opioid-use reduction and improved chronic pain relief

 Massachusetts Iraq war veteran says studies point to need for controlled access proposed by Question 4; Just 155 of 36,000 MA physicians are certified to issue marijuana medical cards

BOSTON—New studies by two national research organizations show that increased access to legal marijuana benefits patients suffering from chronic pain while dramatically reducing opioid use and addiction rates.

Stephen Mandile, a disabled Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and founder of Veterans Alternative Healing, said the studies underscore the importance of increasing marijuana access in Massachusetts through the regulated and taxed system proposed by Question 4, which will be on the November ballot.

“We have medical marijuana laws in Massachusetts, but we have yet to experience the true benefits of a robust but controlled access system.  There are too few dispensaries, too many restrictions, and far too many people in Massachusetts who would benefit from therapeutic marijuana but do not have access,” Mandile said.

A regulated and taxed system would allow patients and healthcare providers to make important medical decisions without the fear of committing a crime, Mandile added.

A study released in June by the American Pain Society showed that therapeutic marijuana use was associated with a 64-percent reduction in opioid use by patients in chronic pain.  Patients also reported better quality of life and far fewer side effects.  The study involved 244 chronic pain patients using therapeutic marijuana over a 15-month period.

A report released this month by Americans for Safe Access concluded that “thousands of patients are dying every year from opioid overdoses because they are in pain and do not have a safer alternative to relieve their pain. While the evidence that cannabis is medicinally useful in treating chronic pain continues to increase, without a single documented case of an overdose, federal legislators continue to fight against rescheduling cannabis to a schedule that would allow it to be used as medicine.”

The report noted that nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported using prescription opioids before starting on heroin, and that 45 percent of those opioid users became addicted to their prescribed opioid medications.

Mandile said veterans, federal employees and other prospective marijuana patients have indicated a reluctance to be placed on the state registration list of qualifying medical marijuana patients due to fears that their federal benefits might be impacted, since marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

Other prospective patients cannot afford the certification process or cannot access the few medical dispensaries currently operating in the state.

“These folks and many more like them would directly benefit from the improved access that would come with the adult-use system proposed by Question 4.  I have no doubt that Massachusetts would see the same reductions in opioid deaths that other states have experienced under a regulated adult-use system,” Mandile said.

According to state records, only 155 of the state’s nearly 36,000 active physicians have completed the training and certification needed to provide medical marijuana access to patients.

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