CT: Medicinal Marijuana Urged To Help Combat Deadly Opioid Epidemic

Photo Credit: Gregory B. Hladky

People who were addicted to opioids and those who lost loved ones to opioid overdoses offered emotional testimony Monday urging state officials to approve medical marijuana as an alternative painkiller that could help halt Connecticut’s deadly opioid epidemic.

“My passion and drive to achieve this is fueled by my personal experience battling pharmaceutical drug addiction solely with the use of cannabis,” Cody Roberts of Seymour told the state Board of Physicians, which is charged with approving conditions for the state’s medical marijuana program. Roberts testified he’s lost eight friends in the past year to opioid overdoses, and has been addicted himself.

“After losing so many friends, you can’t help but spend countless nights grieving, trying to figure out why and what you could have done to prevent these senseless deaths,” Roberts said. “I went to jail. I went to rehab. I tried to commit suicide twice,” he said of his experience with opioids, adding that pot “saved my life.”

Several of those testifying at a hearing in downtown Hartford cited statistics about the rising death rate caused by opioid overdoses. Federal experts counted more than 42,000 deaths relating to opioids in 2016, and the opioid death toll in Connecticut rose to 917 last year. One point made repeatedly during Monday’s testimony was that opioid addiction is a plague that touches all economic and social groups.

Despite the testimony, the Board of Physicians tabled the proposal. Members of the panel said they wanted more time to get additional information from experts in those fields.

James Preston, a firefighter and EMT from Windham, said he was prescribed a variety of opioid painkillers after he slipped on ice in 2014 and fractured his neck in three places. “I was like a zombie,” Preston, 57, said of his life on narcotics. “I was thinking about running into a tree… I felt useless.”

Preston said he begged his doctor “for something different” but ended up making and using his own marijuana oil. “It started getting better,” Preston recalled, his voice trembling. “I could get on a fire truck right now and do my job. … I know if it wasn’t for cannabis oil, I wouldn’t have made it.”

Will Moffett, a Hartford resident,  said his sister was prescribed OxyContin three years ago for a medical condition. “My sister has overdosed 10 times in the past year,” said Moffett, who explained he has used marijuana every day in his own successful battle to stay off hard drugs.

“We desperately need in Connecticut an alternative treatment for pain,” said Gerry Craig, 64, a Shelton resident suffering from a debilitating spinal condition. He said medical marijuana has enabled him to significantly reduce his dependence on opioid painkillers. “If it works for me, it can work for anyone,” Craig said as he testified from his wheelchair.

More than 30 people showed up to testify at Monday’s hearing.

The board also considered adding albinism, nystagmus, osteogenesis imperfecta, and progressive degenerative disc disease of the spine to the marijuana program.

The Board of Physicians voted to recommend adding osteogenesis to the state list of conditions approved for medical marijuana treatment for adults and children, but rejected albinism and nystagmus, and is planning to vote at a later date on whether to approve progressive degenerative disc disease.

If recommended by the physicians’ panel, a condition then must be approved by the state commissioner of consumer protection and the legislature’s regulations review committee before a patient with that disorder may be certified the state’s medical marijuana program.

Connecticut already lists 22 medical conditions for adults that qualify for medical marijuana certification and six conditions for people under age 18.