Patient Advocates Call on Congress to Act to Preserve Medical Cannabis to Fight Opiate Crisis
November 03, 2017 | Elizabeth Collins
As a kick off to the End Pain Not Lives Campaign on November 1, Americans for Safe Access and US Pain Foundation advocates held a press conference and rally on Capitol Hill to encourage Congress and the Administration to consider medical cannabis as an option for pain in order to help mitigate the current opioid overdose crisis that has hit epidemic proportions in our nation.
The event began with a moment of silence for the over 91 Americans who die daily from prescription opioid overdose. This moving moment was followed by Congressman and medical cannabis champion Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) addressing the crowd. He stressed the need for a more concerted effort by Congress to explore the option of using medical cannabis as a tool to help combat the crisis. “The opioid crisis is a national emergency, killing 147 people a day. We must do more to help the families and communities torn apart by addiction,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-03). “At the very least, the federal government should stay out of the way as states allow access to safer alternatives to opioids like medical cannabis.”
“We are gathering to ask that Congress maintain the Medical Cannabis CJS amendment which protects patients in medical cannabis states from federal interference, allowing states to progress beyond the nearly 25% decrease they have already seen in opioid overdose deaths,” stated Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access. “One in three Americans suffer from chronic pain and one in ten have experienced severe pain every day for three months or more. Policy makers need to include a health care approach to the opioid crisis not just a law enforcement response. Medical cannabis programs are saving lives.” While President of the US Pain Foundation, Paul Gileno could not be there, he issued a statement, “People with chronic pain need
options to help with pain, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment gives people suffering with chronic pain the use of medical cannabis which can not only help reduce their pain but also help with the opioid crisis by giving people with pain another option to help reduce the suffering and give some quality of life.”
The crowd heard inspirational stories from patients who have utilized cannabis to help treat their chronic pain. Two patients, Amy Catterton and Liliana Massimo traveled from North Carolina to share their stories. Amy, who has stage 4 bone cancer, spoke about how “life changing” medical cannabis was as it helped her get out of the state of constant fatigue and brain fog opioids had put her in and enabled her to enjoy her children and husband once again. Liliana spoke passionately about her experience with the horrible side-effects of the opioids her doctor’s prescribed for her, and how medical cannabis allowed her to wean off them, lose weight, and live a fuller life with her family. She pointed out the sad fact that many patients like her have to “hide to heal.”
Also speaking was Amy Mellen, a former Oregon patient who now lives in Maryland. After suffering a major car accident in 2006 Amy experienced severe chronic pain. She left the hospital with a supply of pills that would be refilled through nine surgical procedures on the hand and arm she nearly lost in the accident. The next 17 years would bring the total to 20 surgeries, but the turning point was another traffic incident. Prescribed gabapentin for her pain, Amy blacked out while driving. In October of 2014, Amy tried smoking cannabis. After four months, she tried topical cannabis medicines. Two months of that and she began ingesting cannabis oil extracts. The oil made the difference. Soon, she was cutting back on the opioids she had taken for years, though she would go through detox 27 times before pulling free. “It literally changed my life,” Amy says. It not only helped control her pain, but within two months of starting it, she was shocked to discover the cannabis oil treatment had reversed her Type 2 diabetes and she’s dropped over 200 pounds.
Disabled US Air Force Veteran Michael Krawitz, who was injured in Guam, spoke emotionally about the use of opioids to treat Veterans and the high rate of overdose deaths among the Veteran community and how using opioids in conjunction with medical cannabis has allowed him, and many others to take less opioids, thus reducing the chance of addiction and overdose.
The event culminated with advocates delivering a letter addressed to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Committees on Appropriations urging them to include the Medical Cannabis CJS amendment amendment in the FY18 appropriations package. The letter was signed by: the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Michael J. Fox Foundation, US Pain Foundation, Epilepsy Foundation, National Women’s Health Network, Realm of Caring, and Americans for Safe Access.
Despite the fact that the amendment has passed twice in House floor votes, and has been part of the appropriations package since 2015, the Committee on Rules voted to not allow a floor vote. The amendment prevents the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with state medical cannabis programs. The Senate version of the amendment (introduced by Senator Leahy) was passed in July in the Senate FY2018 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.
The rally came on the heels of the President’s formal announcement last week declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency. On August 10th, 2017, referring to the opioid crisis, President Trump said: "I'm saying officially right now, it is an emergency. It is a National emergency." However, never formalized his declaration and last week’s declaration of a public health emergency fell short. While this is a positive step forward, the declaration does not include the necessary provisions for new funds which states need to combat the crisis.
Thirty states, including those most negatively impacted by the opioid crisis such as West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Ohio, and Washington DC, have medical cannabis programs. Many of these states allow medical cannabis to be used to treat chronic pain. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that in states with medical cannabis programs, there has been a 25% reduction in opioid related deaths. This study also showed a 13% decrease in hospitalizations from opioid related causes. In a survey of nearly 3,000 pain patients, 93% preferred medical cannabis over opioid therapies for pain management. In addition to the data, there are thousands of personal stories of patients who have been able to reduce the number of opioids they take or come off opioid therapies altogether by using cannabis.
Sister events were held in four locations in Kansas and also in Ohio, South Carolina, Utah, Illinois, South Carolina and Idaho. Advocates hope that both the Administration and Congress will take measures to ensure medical cannabis states have the protections and federal support they need to utilize medical cannabis as a treatment for pain and, in turn, decrease opioid addiction and overdose in their states.
ASA’s End Pain Not Lives campaign to make medical cannabis an option for pain will continue throughout the month of November. Please visit the EPNL site to find out how YOU can get involved: www.endpainnotlives.org.