Medical Marijuana: New York is Waiting to Inhale

June 18, 2007

Tom Precious, Buffalo News (NY)

ALBANY — Joel Peacock, a registered member of the Conservative Party, has little use for liberal politicians.

“I’m as far from liberal as you’re ever going to get,” the 57- year-old Buffalo construction inspector said.

Yet Peacock said he hopes state lawmakers in Albany this week will pass a bill legalizing marijuana for certain medical uses.

Peacock, who said “never in a million years” did he think he would ever promote such a plan, has been in severe pain since a 2001 car accident on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. In the years since, it has affected nearly every facet of his life.

Doctors have tried an assortment of painkillers, settling on three drugs he now takes — with a price tag for his wife’s insurance company of about $2,800 a month.

Peacock and many medical experts believe marijuana could be a supplement to the powerful and sometimes addictive narcotics that people with life-threatening and debilitatingly painful conditions now turn to for relief.

He is adding his voice to those of physicians, nurses, home care and hospice workers, and patient advocates who are pushing for New York to become the 13th state in the nation to permit the medical use of marijuana.

Pending legislation has the support of leading Democrats and Republicans in the State Legislature, and last week, Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer said he has changed his mind from his days as a prosecutor and now supports the drug’s limited use for certain kinds of patients.

But there remains a disagreement among lawmakers over controlling access to the drug, which has negotiators scrambling for a compromise before the Legislature ends its 2007 session later this week.

Physicians see marijuana as an adjunct type of drug to help everything from loss of appetite in patients with cancer and AIDS to providing a bit more comfort to the terminally ill.

“I think you’d be hardpressed to find somebody in our line of work to not support something of potential benefit to our patients,” said Dr. Christopher Kerr, medical director at Hospice Buffalo, which cares for 500 patients in inpatient, nursing home and residential settings in Western New York.

“I just don’t think people with terminal diseases should be reduced to what’s viewed as illegal acts to obtain relief from their suffering,” Kerr said. “If there are options, I don’t think the politics should trump the science.”

At the Capitol, the most vocal critic of the medical marijuana bill has been Peacock’s state Conservative Party. Some conservatives argue that the state is sending the wrong message by legalizing marijuana for a certain segment and worry about a slippery slope that could lead to further relaxing of drug laws.

The Assembly approved its version last week during a debate that saw several lawmakers speak of terminally ill spouses and parents who either did use or who lawmakers said should have been able to use marijuana before they died of cancer and other diseases. During a floor debate last week, several lawmakers, including Assemblyman James Hayes, RAmherst, criticized the plan because it would leave it up to patients to find their own marijuana.

Backers said they want statelicensed facilities to dispense the drug to qualified patients, but the federal government has raided such outlets in California, where medical marijuana is legal.

Senate Republicans said they won’t pass a bill that could force some patients — who would have to be approved by physicians and the state Health Department — to find the drug through dealers. A measure was introduced Monday in the State Senate that would permit pos - session of medical marijuana but only if it was obtained through state-sanctioned dispensers.

Many patients in New York already have turned to marijuana.

Bruce Dunn, an Otsego County resident, added marijuana to the Oxycontin he has been taking for pain — despite knowing he’s breaking the law. “I resent the hell out of being a criminal because I use this herb,” he told reporters at the Capitol on Monday.

Peacock already has seen the benefits of marijuana to help relieve neck pain that came following surgery to remove three disks in his spine.

During a construction business trip to Louisiana and Florida after Hurricane Katrina, he ran out of his medication and could not get the prescriptions — which have different dispensing standards than most drugs — refilled while out of town. Desperate and suffering from violent withdrawal symptoms, he turned to marijuana for temporary relief, he said.

Peacock said he has not had any of the drug since then because he relies on three powerful prescription narcotics, including Actiq, a potent drug used by cancer patients.

“It [marijuana] didn’t make me act silly. It just took the pain away,” Peacock said.

Peacock is a former construction manager and now performs construction inspections on commercial building projects.

Legislation pending in Alba - ny would not cover Peacock or others suffering from chronic pain; it is limited to serious, lifethreatening conditions, though a provision would permit the state health commissioner to add other conditions, such as pain.

Peacock said policymakers should consider marijuana not just from a medical standpoint but as a way to help lower prescription drug costs, like the nearly $36,000 his drugs will cost his wife’s insurance company this year. He said he strongly opposes laws that would loosen marijuana laws for anyone except those who medically qualify.

“It may sound corny, but the cost of my pain medications are absolutely insane,” he said. “If they could provide something like medical marijuana, wouldn’t that help everybody to see the costs going down instead of going up?”

Peacock talked of the various medications doctors have prescribed over the years, each with its own troublesome side effects.

In marijuana, Peacock sees a hopeful supplement to legal medications to deal with a chronic condition. “It just never goes away,” he said of his pain.

 

tprecious@buffnews.com



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