You might have missed it, but this week Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an important piece of legislation. S8987A/A 11011-B adds acute pain management to the list of conditions for which medical marijuana can be recommended as an alternative to opioid use. The new law will also allow for substance use disorder treatment providers to recommend medical marijuana to help patients manage underlying pain that contributes to the abuse of substances such as opioids.
The measure will formalize into law the regulatory change that was implemented by the State Department of Health earlier this year that added opioid replacement and opioid use disorder to the existing list of conditions for which a patient can qualify for medical marijuana. In order to recommend medical marijuana for pain management, a registered practitioner must determine that the patient’s pain degrades health and functional capability, along with certain other requirements.
However, the new law has its detractors. The executive director of the New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers, John Coppolla, characterized it as “misguided.”
“The use of medical marijuana as an alternative to FDA approved and research supported addiction medicines (methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone) will increase the risk of relapse and overdose,” Coppolla added. “Making medical marijuana available to treat addiction will have no meaningful impact on our effort to combat the pandemic of opioid overdose and addiction.”
S8987A/A 11011-B may now be on the New York books as law—but it’s not gospel. Nobody is forcing any physician’s hand here. It’s simply another option to arm ourselves for the war we’re losing every day. And we need all the help we can get.
“We know that medical marijuana can be a helpful alternative for a wide range of illnesses and conditions,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. “By expanding the approved list, we are providing New Yorkers with new options, and preventing the danger that comes from opioid addiction.”
State Sen. George Amedore (R-Kingston), chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, added, “When we look at solutions to help us combat the heroin and opioid epidemic, we must ensure prescribers and patients have every resource and option at their disposal.”
We couldn’t agree more with Mr. Coppolla’s assessment of methadone and drugs like Suboxone—they’ve saved lives. But they’ve claimed them, too.
“Pragmatically, since it is now law, it is imperative that science and research are used to guide the regulatory infrastructure for implementation,” Coppolla said. “The NYS Department of Health must ensure that the public does not receive the message that medical marijuana is a suitable replacement for methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone for the treatment of opioid dependence. It is critical that funding be dedicated to educate physicians and treatment professionals about this new law as well as the public at large, so that we do not increase the likelihood of relapse and overdose.”
Science and research. More funding to educate doctors and addiction professionals. We agree with those observations as well.
There are no silver bullets out there, no panaceas without side effects. We just see this medical marijuana option as another arrow in our quiver in the fight for future generations.


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