PETITION TO THE NM MEDICAL ADVISORY BOARD OF THE NEW MEXICO MEDICAL CANNABIS PROGRAM TO ADD OPIATE DEPENDENCE AS A QUALIFYING CONDITION 

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Anita Briscoe, MS, APRN-BC
718 Adams NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110
505-720-9495

My name is Anita Willard Briscoe and I am a native New Mexican from Espanola, living in Albuquerque.  I have been a nurse for 40 years, a psych nurse practitioner for 12 years.  I have been referring patients to the cannabis program for 7 years.

Over this past year I have observed that about 25% of my patients have stated independently that they were able to kick opiates with cannabis. They state it calms down their cravings, relaxes their craving anxiety and is helping them to keep off of opiates. If they are in pain, cannabis is helping relieve their pain, often to the point that they don’t need opiates any more.  I began researching the medical literature more deeply to determine what it is about cannabis that’s helping.

I also started counting, and asking my cannabis prescribing colleagues what they’re observing the same thing, and they are saying that their patients have been able to kick opiates with cannabis. Together we have approximately 400 patients who have been successful quitting opiates, using cannabis.

I am here today to petition you to add opioid dependence to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis.

Attached is the research I did, a brief description of the studies that have been done both in the United States, and internationally. The cover page is a graphic reminder of how very serious and debilitating this disease is, as well as how our opiate overdose and abuse problem has been increasing over the last 13 years.

I have indexed the research according to condition:  I started using studies that prove that cannabis helps relieve pain.  After all, pain is usually the reason patients start getting addicted to opiates.  You probably have heard the story:  They start out with some pain pills for a condition, and get hooked. They then probably get cut off by their prescriber, and have to get pills off the street, which are very expensive.  It is easier and cheaper to get heroin.

I have included five separate bodies of research: cannabis and pain relief, cannabis withdrawal, detox and maintenance, safety, and harm reduction, as well as the economics of how cannabis has reduced prescription costs.

I am writing this petition from my heart: I love my patients and feel very protective of them.  The fact that people cannot get cannabis for their opiate addiction is a travesty. Just think if they had access to cannabis and were able to kick their habit, how our state would change.  Crime would be down, health care costs would diminish, overdose deaths would fall, and it would help our economy to flourish.  Without opiate abuse, New Mexico’s children would be safer, families would be more stable.

As I mentioned, I’m from Espanola, the town with the dubious title “The Heroin Capital.” I’ve seen firsthand how heroin has destroyed, decayed and desiccated my beloved home town. The patients that come to see me that are from Northern New Mexico describe a very dangerous environment in their communities with heroin. Indeed, when I was helping a physician prescribe Suboxone to my patient from Espanola, he was murdered for his Suboxone.

Patients are often very motivated to get off of heroin, but getting into medication assisted treatment is very difficult.  One of my patients from Clovis has to drive to Albuquerque every week to get her Suboxone.  Suboxone costs $1021 for 60 strips of 3 mg each.  This is approximately 20 days’ worth.  There is a shortage of medication assisted treatment providers. Patients may stay on Suboxone for years.

Our Medicaid program is paying for the majority of this cost.  My colleagues and I are aware that medication assisted treatment (methadone and Suboxone) is the standard of care, and I am not looking to replace it with cannabis.  But the research shows that cannabis works well as an adjunct to treatment.  Having access to cannabis would be a great help to our patients.  This move would also be a rich opportunity to begin doing research in New Mexico, particularly prospective studies on opiate use, overdose and death reduction.

Why add opiate dependence as a qualifying condition?  Here are some answers.

It has been proven by medical research to work.
The patients are using cannabis to treat their dependence anyway.
Arresting and imprisoning them for using cannabis to stop using opiates is expensive for NM.
Medication assisted treatment is difficult to get into, sometimes with very long waiting times to get into the program, as well as having to drive long distances.
Medication assisted treatment is expensive, and has worse side effects than cannabis treatment.
We owe this to our patients.  A treatment that is within close reach is unattainable because it’s illegal.
Some of the research views medical cannabis as legitimate harm reduction.  Using this model, cannabis is much less dangerous to the patient and his/her community than the heroin that is now on the streets and is much more readily accessible and affordable.
Our state’s program has often been a model that other states are following as they legalize medical cannabis.  We are a leader in this effort. Let’s continue to lead and be innovative, and use solutions that work.
While developing this petition, some questions came to mind that you might ask:
How do we know it’s not just a pothead lying about opiate abuse so they can get a card to use cannabis for purely recreational use? How are providers that refer going to monitor their patients and track their opiate use?

The answer to the first question is for providers to strictly adhere to the DSM 5 criteria for diagnosis of opiate abuse.

As far as monitoring the patients, I would build into the program the requirement that the provider must follow up by phone or face to face with the patient to track their opiate use, as well as educate the client about using cannabis to cut down on withdrawal symptoms.  We would also have the patient keep a journal of their opiate use as their treatment cannabis is progressing.

You may be aware that Maine attempted to add opiate dependence to their list of qualifying conditions this summer, and failed, due to “lack of research”.  The bibliography I have developed shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is an abundance of robust research on the topic.   New Mexico can and should lead the way in taking advantage of this opportunity to give opiate dependent patients access to medical marijuana.

I encourage the Medical Advisory Board to review this petition for inclusion of opiate addiction into the current list of qualifying conditions for the Medical Cannabis Program.  The risks would surely be outweighed by the possibility improving lives and even saving one life. We have an opportunity to explore and lead the nation in researching what could be a revolutionary treatment for addiction.

In concluding, I ask that you as the Medical Advisory Board consider adding opiate dependence as a qualifying condition.  I know there are forces out there such as the pharma industry, with what they’re doing in Arizona (lobbying to keep cannabis illegal), as well as other strong anti-cannabis forces in this state that seem to be holding back progress for treatment.  My colleagues, myself, and all our patients ask that you not buckle under these forces and do the right thing by allowing opiate dependence to be on the list of qualifying conditions for use of medical cannabis.
Thank you very much,

Anita Briscoe, MS, APRN-BC