Pubdate: Tue, 12 Jul 2016
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2016 MaineToday Media, Inc.
Author: Dennis Hoey


The Department of Health and Human Services denies a petition by a 
caregiver who sought to add addiction to the list of medical 
conditions that qualify for marijuana prescriptions.

A state agency has denied a petition to allow medical marijuana to be 
prescribed for treatment of addiction to opioids and other drugs.

Dawson Julia, a medical marijuana caregiver in Unity, filed the 
petition Jan. 12 and was informed of the denial Monday in a letter 
from Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew. Julia had 
sought to add "Addiction to Opiates 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.

At a DHHS hearing in April, Julia and other caregivers testified in 
favor of allowing marijuana to be prescribed to treat opioid 
addiction. Doctors and other medical professionals opposed the 
proposal, citing a lack of scientific evidence that it is effective.

Samantha Edwards, spokeswoman for the DHHS, confirmed the 
department's denial of Julia's petition. Edwards said the agency 
would let the documents it sent to Julia represent the department's 
position. Julia provided the documents to the Portland Press Herald.

"It should be clearly understood that this decision was reached after 
careful consideration of the petition and information provided by the 
petitioner; other medical research, written and oral testimony 
submitted at the public hearing held on April 19, 2016, and 
consultation with two licensed Maine physicians," Mayhew said in her 
letter dated July 8.

Those physicians, Christopher Pezzullo, the state health officer, and 
Siiri Bennett, the state epidemiologist, are members of the Medical 
Marijuana Advisory Committee.

In a letter to Mayhew dated July 1, Pezzullo and Bennett concede that 
ongoing human trials offer some hope of treating opioid addictions, 
but they recommended against allowing it now.

"While the animal and case studies and individual testimonies 
presented are compelling and point toward possible future approaches 
to the treatment of opioid addiction, studies in humans that support 
marijuana use for treatment of opioid addiction have not yet been 
published," Pezzullo and Bennett said.

"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 added.

"The decision sucks, but at the end of the day it just gives me more 
firepower to fight the fight," Julia said Monday. "We're going to 
keep fighting. I am not going away."

Julia said he will spend the rest of the summer trying to find 
legislative sponsors for a bill that would reflect his petition's 
objectives. His bill would be presented to the full Legislature for 
consideration when it convenes in January. If the bill becomes law, 
Maine would be the first state to allow medical marijuana treatment 
for addiction to opioids and other drugs, Julia said.

Julia said his decision to add the chemical synthesis clause to his 
petition drew opposition from the pharmaceutical industry because it 
would have covered prescription sedatives such as Klonopin and Xanax.

"This (petition) was lobbied hard by the pharmaceutical companies," 
Julia said. Currently, methadone or Suboxone are prescribed for 
opioid addiction.

Maine is in the midst of an opioid addiction crisis. The number of 
people seeking treatment for opioid addiction increased from 1,115 in 
2010 to 3,463 in 2014. In 2015, 272 people died from drug overdoses 
in Maine, the highest number on record and a 31 percent increase over 
the previous year.

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, who is serving her last term in the Legislature, has 
supported efforts to legalize recreational marijuana use and said she 
supported the petition.

"We are in the middle of a heroin addiction crisis," Russell said. 
"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," she continued. "There is a marked lack of courage in 
Augusta at a time when we need it the most."

Brakey, who serves as chairman of the Legislature's Health and Human 
Services Committee, said he will sponsor Julia's legislation if asked to.

"It is certainly worthy of consideration," Brakey said. "It's 
something we should have a discussion about."

Brakey said he has heard anecdotally that marijuana can help lessen 
the painful effects of heroin withdrawal.

"Why not allow an individual the right to choose. They're not hurting 
anyone else," he said. "If it's not costing us any taxpayer money, 
then why should government stand in the way?"
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom