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New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program Adds Opioid Addiction as Qualifying Condition


February 14, 2019
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Opioid Addiction is Now an Eligible Condition Under New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Program

Opioid addiction is now an eligible condition under New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP). Gov. Phil Murphy made the announcement while unveiling several new initiatives aimed to combat the opioid epidemic. In 2018, more than 3,000 individuals in New Jersey died due to overdoses.

New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program Adds Opioid Addiction as Qualifying Condition
Photo courtesy of GJB Miller (Pixabay.com)

NJ Adds Opioid Addiction as Qualifying Condition

Previously, individuals addicted to opioids could only qualify for medical cannabis if they became dependent while seeking to treat chronic pain associated with a musculoskeletal disorder. Medical cannabis can now be used as an adjunct to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for all patients that suffer from opioid addiction. According to New Jersey public health officials, doctors may immediately begin recommending cannabis for opioid addiction.

“We are pleased to announce that, as of today, opioid use disorder is a condition for which physicians can recommend medical marijuana to patients,” Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a press statement. “We are also taking steps to ensure that these patients will be on MAT for their addiction, in addition to marijuana. Finally, DOH is doubling down on syringe access programs and initiatives to reduce opioid prescribing, proven methods for reducing the impact of opioid addiction.”

NY Adds Opioid Replacement as Qualifying Condition

Last summer, New York took similar action. The state enacted emergency regulations authorizing registered practitioners to certify patients to use medical marijuana as a replacement for opioids, provided that the precise underlying condition for which an opioid would otherwise be prescribed is stated on the patient’s certification. Adding opioid replacement as a qualifying condition allows patients with severe pain that doesn’t meet the definition of chronic pain to use medical marijuana as a replacement for opioids.

“Medical marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment for pain that may also reduce the chance of opioid dependence,” said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “Adding opioid replacement as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana offers providers another treatment option, which is a critical step in combatting the deadly opioid epidemic affecting people across the state.”

Studies Show Access to Cannabis Eases Opioid Epidemic

The availability of medical cannabis has been shown to reduce opioid prescribing and addiction. A study published last summer found that medical marijuana laws were associated with an almost 30 percent reduction in the amount of Schedule III opioids prescribed to Medicaid enrollees. “[I]f all the states had legalized medical cannabis by 2014, Medicaid annual spending on opioid prescriptions would be reduced by 17.8 million dollars,” the study projected.

Another recent study found that counties with medical marijuana dispensaries experience six to eight percent fewer opioid overdose deaths overall and 10 percent fewer heroin overdose deaths. “Importantly, these effects are limited to counties where dispensaries opened and do not apply to non-dispensary counties in states with that have legalized medical cannabis,” the researchers explained. That is, “while legalizing medical cannabis is not associated with lower levels of opioid overdose mortality, the presence of dispensaries has a large negative impact on the number of opioid-related deaths.”

Key Takeaway

The addition of opioid addiction/replacement as a qualifying condition is good news for everyone, including patients, medical cannabis dispensaries, and the public. Of course, both New Jersey and New York are now considering whether to legalize recreational cannabis. While the efforts are advancing in New York, legislation has stalled again in New Jersey as lawmakers hash out the final details, including oversight and taxing.

If you have any questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, at 201-806-3364.

This article is a part of a series pertaining to cannabis legalization in New Jersey and the United States at large. Prior articles in this series are below: