420 Magazine Background

Veterans Caught In The Crosshairs Of Medical Marijuana Laws

Ron Strider

Well-Known Member
The screech of a chair across the floor of a fast-food restaurant made Tom Mertz instinctively jerk his head toward the noise.

He felt the pain immediately in his neck.

And when he drives, his right leg throbs unless he keeps rubbing it.

Everything hurts.

At 68, Mertz, who served with the Marines in the Vietnam War, is prescribed a laundry list of medication to manage his many health problems, including slow-acting and fast-acting oxycodone, one of the painkillers fueling a deadly opioid epidemic. He wonders if medical marijuana might help him with his chronic pain, which is one of the 17 health conditions that Pennsylvania allows to be treated with cannabis.

But Mertz's U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' card, which can get him oxycodone, is no good for medical marijuana. The agency doesn't allow its doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients, nor does it allow patients to use medical marijuana in its facilities.

Pennsylvania's 800,000 veterans are caught at a conflicting intersection of state and national law, causing confusion and limiting their access to a drug that could help treat common combat-related health problems such as chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Almost two-thirds of veterans returning from service in the Middle East and more than half of older veterans suffer from chronic pain, according to Veterans Affairs officials. Veterans are also nearly twice as likely to die from accidental opioid overdose than non-veterans, according to a 2011 study published on the National Institutes of Health website. In recent years, Veterans Affairs doctors have been criticized by lawmakers and health experts for overprescribing opioids to deal with serious pain problems because such painkillers are addictive.

In addition, many veterans, especially those who have experienced combat, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is among the ailments the state has approved for medical marijuana treatment.

Last week, The American Legion released a survey in which the vast majority of veterans and their caregivers said they support legalizing cannabis for medical use as well as further research on its medical benefits. And last year, The Legion lobbied the federal government to lessen restrictions on marijuana.

Secretary of Veteran Affairs David J. Shulkin noted in May that while evidence shows medical marijuana may be beneficial, the agency has to follow federal law.

One of the seven Lehigh Valley doctors who won state approval to recommend patients for medical marijuana works for Veterans Affairs.

Dr. Mohammad Khan, a psychiatrist who treats veterans and also has a private practice, declined to comment on his views on medical marijuana, citing Veteran Affairs' policy. He said he keeps his private practice separate from his work at Veterans Affairs. Khan said he is not taking any medical marijuana patients until he finds liability insurance to cover the treatment.

Mertz, who lives in Easton, would like to try medical marijuana, thinking it could help him relax and fall asleep. He joked that it might even give him an appetite.

It's difficult, he said, dealing with health problems – some of which came about after a car accident – as well as the side effects of medication. And half a century after the Vietnam War, Mertz still can't talk about it.

The bright spot in his life is his young grandson. "He doesn't know anything bad in this world," Mertz said.

He is the reason Mertz fights to get healthier, the reason he's looking for a way to cope with pain.

News Moderator: Ron Strider 420 MAGAZINE ®
Full Article: Veterans caught in crosshairs of medical marijuana laws - Lehigh Valley Business Cycle
Author: Binghui Huang
Contact: Morning Call Staff Contact List - The Morning Call
Photo Credit: Nick Oza
Website: The Morning Call - Allentown, Lehigh Valley & Pennsylvania News
Top Bottom