Pubdate: Wed, 27 Apr 2016
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Author: Michael Casey, Associated Press


Idea Intrigues Doctors and Lawmakers in States Hit Hard by Addiction

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The growing number of patients who claim 
marijuana helped them drop their painkiller habit has intrigued 
lawmakers and emboldened advocates, who are pushing for cannabis as a 
treatment for the abuse of opioids and illegal narcotics like heroin, 
as well as an alternative to painkillers.

It's a tempting sell in New England, hard hit by the painkiller and 
heroin crisis, with a problem: There is very little research showing 
marijuana works as a treatment for the addiction.

Advocates argue a growing body of scientific literature supports the 
idea, pointing to a study in the Journal of Pain this year that found 
chronic pain sufferers significantly reduced their opioid use when 
taking medical cannabis. And a study published last year in the 
Journal of the American Medical Association found cannabis can be 
effective in treating chronic pain and other ailments.

But the research falls short of concluding marijuana helps wean 
people off opioids - Vicodin, Oxycontin and related painkillers - and 
heroin, and many medical professionals say it's not enough for them 
to confidently prescribe it.

In Maine, which is considering adding opioid and heroin addiction to 
the list of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana, Michelle 
Ham said marijuana helped her end a yearslong addiction to 
painkillers she took for a bad back and neck.

Tired of feeling "like a zombie," the 37-year-old mother of two 
decided to quit cold turkey, which she said brought on convulsions 
and other withdrawal symptoms.

Then, a friend mentioned marijuana, which Maine had legalized in 1999 
for chronic pain and scores of other medical conditions. She gave it 
a try in 2013 and said the pain is under control. And she hasn't gone 
back on the opioids.

"Before, I couldn't even function. I couldn't get anything done," Ham 
said. "Now, I actually organize volunteers, and we have a donations 
center to help the needy."

Bolstered by stories like Ham's, doctors are experimenting with 
marijuana as an addiction treatment in Massachusetts and California. 
Supporters in Maine are pushing for its inclusion in qualifying 
conditions for medical marijuana, and Vermonters are making the case 
for addiction treatment in their push to legalize pot.

Authorities are also desperate to curb a sharp rise in overdoses; 
Maine saw a 31 percent increase last year, and drug-related deaths in 
Vermont have jumped 44 percent since 2010. Vermont officials also 
blame opioid abuse for a 40 percent increase over the past two years 
of children in state custody.

"I don't think it's a cure for everybody," said Maine Rep. Diane 
Russell, a Portland Democrat and a leader in the state effort to 
legalize marijuana. "But why take a solution off the table when 
people are telling us and physicians are telling us that it's working?"
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom