The Portland Press Herald reported on a petition filed by a caregiver to add cannabis for opiate addiction and drugs derived from chemical synthesis to the list of debilitating medical conditions that qualify for medical marijuana prescriptions. The list currently includes glaucoma, cancer and other conditions. The Health and Human Services Commissioner of the state of Maine, Mary Mayhew, denied the request on the grounds that the proposal lacked scientific evidence to prove medical marijuana could effectively treat addictions.
The proposition was strongly opposed by medical doctors and other healthcare providers attending the hearing. They say there is little or no scientific evidence to support the use of marijuana for such purposes, and that doing so could create another drug dependency for addicts. It would be like fighting fire with oil.
Why caregivers think cannabis for opiate addiction might help
The reason why the petition was filed in the first place is escalating addiction to opioid drugs prescribed for pain. In 2014 a total of 80 million doses of opioid medication was prescribed to 350 000 residents of the state of Maine – 1 in every 4 people. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) the over-prescription of painkillers is contributing to the growing addiction to heroin.
Heroin addiction has reached crisis proportions in Maine, claiming 272 lives in 2015 in comparison to 208 in 2014, and 155 in 2011. Furthermore addiction to opioid drugs is escalating at a frightening rate as the number of people seeking treatment for opiate addiction increased from 1,115 in 2010 to 3,463 in 2014.
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Cannabis may help – but there’s no proof
Dr. Dustin Sulak, a Falmouth-based doctor and leading expert in Maine on medical marijuana said, “We clearly have a major public health issue and we don’t currently have a good solution to it. Cannabis for opiate addiction isn’t enough to completely solve this epidemic, but we need a treatment that can replace the opioids.”
Dawson Julia, a medical marijuana caregiver in Unity who filed the petition, cited research that shows that opiate overdose death rates are 25 percent lower in states with medical marijuana laws. She believes that cannabis for opiate addiction could save lives.
The case for using marijuana as a treatment of opioid drug addiction was backed by animal case studies and compelling individual testimonies but studies in humans that support the proposal have not yet been published.
“Given the lack of rigorous human studies on the use of marijuana for the treatment of opioid addiction (only one clinical trial has been completed) and the lack of any safety or efficacy data, the Committee can not conclude that the use of medical marijuana for treatment of opioid addiction is safe,” the physicians at the hearing added.
Political support for petition
Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, and Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said that by denying Julia’s petition, the DHHS missed an opportunity to help addicted Mainers.
Russell openly supported the petition and said. “We are in the middle of a heroin addiction crisis. We should be doing everything in our power to help these people.
I understand the state is being cautious, but now is not the time for caution,”
Brakey, who serves as chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said he would sponsor a proposal for cannabis for opiate addiction if he were asked.