New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is following the example set by New York last summer and adding opioid addiction to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. Speaking Wednesday about the state’s ongoing opioid epidemic at Cooper University Hospital, Gov. Murphy announced the major expansion of eligibility for the state’s revamped medical cannabis program. Patients in New Jersey can already qualify for medical cannabis treatments if they suffer from chronic pain. But now, any patient with an opioid use disorder is eligible for cannabis treatments alongside other medication.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy Makes Cannabis a Key Part of Plan to Fight Opioid Addiction
In 2017, more than 2,700 New Jersey residents died from opioid-related overdose deaths. In 2018, that number climbed to nearly one more person each day, totaling more than 3,000 deaths. “The opioid epidemic continues to devastate families and communities across our state,” Murphy said during the announcement.
To meet that challenge head on, Gov. Murphy called for using data-driven, evidence-based strategies. And a key part of that approach is expanding access to medical cannabis treatments. Murphy said that New Jersey’s Medical Marijuana Program will allow the use of medical cannabis as a supplement to prescription treatments for opioid use disorders. This is somewhat different from the medical cannabis eligibility expansion in New York. There, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill authorizing medical cannabis treatments as opioid replacements. In other words, any condition for which a doctor can prescribe an opioid automatically qualifies for medical cannabis treatments in New York.
Still, New Jersey’s own expansion is part of a sweeping effort to reduce addiction across the state. Gov. Murphy will also remove a prior authorization requirement that made it harder for people with opioid use disorders to get Medicaid treatments. Medicaid is also building a pair of opioid treatment centers in the state.
Research Shows How Medical Marijuana Can Fight Opioid and Heroin Addiction
New research suggests that medical cannabis treatments can be an effective tool in the fight against opioid addiction. One recent study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, compares Medicaid patients in legal-weed states versus states without medical cannabis. It found that medical marijuana states had lower rates of prescribing opioids. Lower prescription rates help decrease that rate of use disorders, leading to fewer overdose deaths.
Additionally, American Addiction Centers say cannabis-based rehabilitation from drug and opioid use disorders can be extremely effective. Under this treatment model, people with addiction use cannabis to wean themselves off opiates or heroin. Unfortunately, there have been remarkably few studies about cannabis-based rehabilitation models.
Most of the research on cannabis and opioids shows how medical cannabis can be a safer alternative to prescription opioids, thereby helping to reduce the number of people taking them. Much of that research, however, focuses on Medicare and Medicaid recipients. But that’s a key demographic impacted by Gov. Murphy’s plan to fight opioid addiction. Now that the Murphy administration has added opioid addiction to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis, we’ll hopefully see more New Jersey patients on the path to recovery.