Gotham Gazette: To Help New Yorkers Quit Opioids, Expand Access to Medical Marijuana Now

By Garry Croney, June 16

As a 67-year-old cancer survivor who suffers from chronic pain as a result of cancer treatments, medical marijuana has allowed me to resume a more normal life free of addictive opioid medications. I hope that lawmakers will now consider expanding the state’s medical marijuana program so that more New Yorkers will have the same access to these important treatments as an alternative to the powerful prescription painkillers that sparked the opioid crisis in our state.

My experience is all too typical of how so many people can easily find themselves reliant on prescription painkillers. Following my retirement from the U.S. Navy and a career in retail management, I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in December 2015 and underwent chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and abdominal perineal resection surgery the following year. As a result of these treatments, I developed debilitating peripheral neuropathy and chronic lower spine pain and was unable to function normally.

The pain was constant and excruciating. My doctors prescribed oxycodone to manage my pain, and with no other options seemingly available, I was eventually taking Percocet pills every four hours or less.

But after researching New York State’s medical marijuana program, I finally had hope that an alternative to opiates was available to help treat my pain. I contacted my doctor and obtained my medical marijuana card in December 2017. Working closely with my doctor and the pharmacist at the dispensary in my community, we found the medical marijuana products that work best for me.

In just a few months, I was able to quit my oxycodone prescription and now live a more normal life — once again able to enjoy my retirement, children, and grandchildren. While my pain will never completely vanish, medical marijuana helps me manage the symptoms without fear of an opioid addiction that has claimed thousands of lives in New York in recent years. It has also been critical in helping to manage my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which I developed following service in the Vietnam War.

But while I had a condition that made me eligible for the state’s medical marijuana program — and am fortunate to have a dispensary in my community that could help me quit oxycodone — thousands of New Yorkers still lack adequate access to medical marijuana and remain at the mercy of opioid-based prescriptions to manage their conditions.

Fortunately, there is hope for these patients in need of care. Recently proposed bills in the state Senate and Assembly would greatly expand access to medical marijuana for New Yorkers.

Senator George Amedore and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried have each introduced bills in their respective chambers that would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to treat opioid addiction or as an alternative for those currently using prescription opiates — which could help prevent an addiction before it starts.

Separately, Assembly Member Gottfried and Senator Diane Savino have both proposed bills that would increase the number of potential dispensaries in New York from 40 to 250 by allowing medical marijuana companies to open up to 25 dispensaries each, bringing access to care for the many communities still in need throughout the state.

While these bills would undoubtedly help thousands of New Yorkers, they remain stuck in their respective committees with just days remaining in the current legislative session. Without action by lawmakers now, patients in need of medical marijuana care will be forced to wait even longer.

My experience is proof that medical marijuana is an important and meaningful alternative to prescription drugs for those suffering from chronic and painful conditions. I hope state lawmakers will support patients like myself by taking immediate action to pass these bills and give more New Yorkers hope for a life free of powerful and addictive opioid-based drugs.

***
Garry Croney is a resident of Newburgh.