Pubdate: Mon, 30 May 2016
Source: Times Union (Albany, NY)
Copyright: 2016 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation
Author: Mike Smithson
Note: Mike Smithson is a Navy veteran and a retired air traffic 
controller. He lives in Camillus.


As a former member of the U.S. Navy, I've seen the pain that lingers 
after our men and women in uniform return home. It's our country's 
responsibility to provide veterans with any medical treatment that 
has proven to be effective.

More and more states are recognizing the overwhelming data about 
medical cannabis. With 24 states and the District of Columbia now 
operating medical cannabis programs, many Americans now have a viable 
alternative to opioid pain medication. In the current state of 
addiction and overdose in our country - a tragedy our state knows too 
well, as more than 1,000 New Yorkers die a year from opioid-related 
deaths - we should welcome any alternative with open arms. This 
situation is even more dire for veterans, as the opioid overdose rate 
for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs patients is almost double the 
national average.

In our state, we've made some progress, and we now have a medical 
cannabis program that allows patients with qualifying conditions to 
be prescribed medical cannabis by a physician registered with the 
state's program. This is a positive step for our state, but for many 
veterans, the program remains out of reach.

First, under the current law, there are only 10 conditions that 
qualify patients as eligible for medical cannabis. These conditions 
include cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy - serious conditions 
whose sufferers deserve relief. However, many conditions, such as 
post-traumatic stress disorder and severe chronic pain, are not 
included, despite the fact that medical cannabis has been shown to 
effectively treat them.

Many of our veterans suffer from PTSD and ongoing pain issues. PTSD 
is estimated to occur in about 12 to 20 percent of Iraq war vets, 6 
to 11 percent of Afghanistan veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War 
veterans, and a horrifying 30 percent of Vietnam veterans. 
Unfortunately, PTSD is responsible for high suicide rates among 
veterans. It's time for New York state officials to reconsider their 
decision to exclude these disorders as a qualifying condition from 
the state's medical cannabis program.

There are two bills pending in the state Legislature that could go a 
long way to improving the lives of veterans. One bill would add PTSD 
to the list of medical conditions covered by the state's medical 
marijuana program. Another bill would add severe, chronic pain to the 
list of conditions, which could not only ease suffering but also help 
reduce the use of more dangerous opioid pain medications and maybe 
even reduce the number of overdose deaths among veterans and others.

Excluding the very conditions that affect some many of our veterans 
from New York's program is unacceptable. Luckily, there is an 
opportunity to correct this.

Our men and women in uniform have served our country valiantly. It's 
time for our state representatives to help, not hinder them. It's 
time for them pass legislation allowing those with PTSD and severe 
chronic pain access to New York's medical marijuana program.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom