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Arizona's Qualifying Condition Petition May Help Fight Opioid Crisis

By Ayanna Rutherford
Jan 29, 2018

Last week, the state of Arizona accepted petitions to expand its current list of qualifying conditions for their medical marijuana program.  Many believe expanding the conditions can assist the state in its on-going battle with opioid use and addiction.    

Adding Conditions for Cannabis Treatment

Every January and July, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), accepts petitions to add illnesses to the state’s debilitating medical conditions list.  Patients and organizations must submit information on the illness including symptoms, conventional treatments and scientific researched evidence supporting the use of medical marijuana as treatment.  Once submitted, ADHS will review the petition and schedule a public hearing if the petition meets the state’s guidelines for medical marijuana treatment.

Opioid Epidemic in Arizona

ADHS monitors the state’s opioid-related statics closely.  According to the ADHS website, there were 362,651 opioid prescriptions dispensed in Arizona in December 2017.  Since June 15, 2017, there are 820 suspected opioid-related deaths and 5512 suspected overdoses in the state.

Like many leaders and stakeholders across the country faced with the troubling opioid trend, Arizona has decided to take action through legislation. 

On Friday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law designed to address opioid abuse in the state.  The new law limits the number of days for an initial opioid prescription to five while setting a maximum of 30 days patients can receive highly addictive painkillers. 

Under the new law, the state is also focusing on treatment for abusers and will grant immunity for those who call 911 to report overdoses.   

The Cannabis Solution to the Opioid Crisis

While many states put laws in place addressing opioid addiction by revamping how prescription drugs are administered, other states are focusing on marijuana to curb the opioid epidemic.

It is no coincidence that a state, like Arizona, focused on opioid addiction has a process to expand conditions treated with medical marijuana. 

It has been long suspected that marijuana could replace opioids as a treatment for pain. 

Arizona's neighbor to the east, New Mexico, conducted a study on the impact of cannabis on opioid abusers. 

A group of psychiatric professionals collected data on 400 opiate-addicted patients and found that 25 percent of them were able to “kick” their addiction with the help of marijuana. 

This example is not just limited to patients in New Mexico, other states with medical marijuana programs are seeing an impact on painkiller use. According to Time magazine, “doctors in a state where marijuana was legal, prescribed an average of 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers per year".

States like Arizona with provisions in the law that gives citizens an opportunity to expand the qualifying conditions list can help fill a gap in treatment.  Illnesses that may have been overlooked during the original law-making process have an opportunity to be added to the list on a biannual basis. 

For example, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder did not make the program's initial debilitating disorder list but was added through the petition process.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse revealed that soldiers returning from combat used high addictive drugs like opioids to treat PTSD.  

If it were not for the petition process PTSD may have remained off the list-leaving thousands vulnerable to painkillers as a treatment option.  



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