An incarcerated woman in New Mexico filed suit last month against the state Department of Corrections after officials allegedly discontinued her prescription for methadone. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed an emergency injunctive relief on Monday in federal court for a plaintiff known as “S.B.” who suffers from opioid use disorder. She relies on doctor-prescribed methadone as part of her active recovery from heroin addiction, according to the complaint. The NMDC bans the use of methadone and other Federal Drug Administration approved medications for addiction treatment (MAT) for most prisoners, according to the complaint. Eric Harrison, public information officer for NMDC, said the department could not comment on active litigation and said that S.B. is not in NMDC custody.
As expected, the head of New Mexico’s Department of Health approved opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition to use medical cannabis. In an announcement on Thursday, DOH Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel said she accepted a recommendation from the state’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to include opioid use disorder and five other conditions as reasons to grant a medical card for medical cannabis use. “Adding these conditions to the Medical Cannabis Program provides medical providers new tools for relieving symptoms that may otherwise be difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to relieve through conventional means,” Kunkel said in a statement. “Thousands of New Mexicans may find relief from their symptoms through medical cannabis that they can’t get anywhere else.”
Kunkel also approved Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorder and three degenerative neurological disorders—Friedreich’s ataxia, Lewy body disease, and spinal muscular atrophy. The approval of those six conditions is the latest change in the Medical Cannabis Program since the change in administrations.
A medical advisory panel on Friday said, for the third time, opioid use disorder should be a qualifying condition for medical cannabis—but this time the cabinet secretary tasked with final approval is expected to agree. The New Mexico Medical Cannabis Advisory Board voted unanimously to add opioid addiction to the list of 22 conditions already allowed. Only four other states allow patients to use cannabis to help alleviate symptoms of opioid use disorder. Dr. Laura Brown, the board’s chair, signaled that the Department of Health is changing course when it comes to medical cannabis under newly appointed Secretary Kathyleen Kunkel. A Medical Cannabis Advisory Board meeting on March 29, 2019.
A series of possible changes to the Medical Cannabis Program could take place in New Mexico, pending a signature from the governor and decisions from the state Department of Health. DOH officials are in a holding pattern of sorts, waiting for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to decide whether or not to sign a key medical cannabis bill and to hear recommendations from the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board regarding what conditions qualify for medical cannabis use. Update: Medical panel approves opioid use disorder for cannabis, DOH expected to approve
Lujan Grisham has until the end of next week to decide on Senate Bill 406, which would clarify the state’s medical cannabis law. But on Friday a medical panel will hear what the public wants when it comes to expanding qualifying conditions. Public Petitions
The Drug Policy Alliance and other groups have long proposed that medical cannabis may help combat Opioid Use Disorder or severe addiction to opioids, which has been a problem in New Mexico for decades.
New Mexico, along with most of the U.S., is struggling to find a way to combat opioid abuse, overdoses and death, a problem often referred to as an epidemic or crisis. One possible solution, according to a recent study, is using cannabis to help fight the addictions to deadly addictive drugs like heroin or prescription drugs. New Mexico Secretary of Health Lynn Gallagher has already shot down the possibility of adding opioid use disorder or substance abuse disorder to the list of 21 qualifying conditions for medical cannabis numerous times. Internal documents show the New Mexico Department of Health, which oversees the medical cannabis program, will likely disapprove it for opioid use disorder again. The revelation that DOH officials have compiled more than a dozen studies that show cannabis not only doesn’t help addiction, but worsens it, has at least one producer in polite disagreement with the Martinez administration and two others openly frustrated.
On April 20, a popular day for cannabis enthusiasts, headlines were filled with pot puns, promises of legalization from politicians and an announcement that Albuquerque ended criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. But after the smoke cleared, some medical cannabis advocates are still holding their breath, waiting to hear from New Mexico’s top medical cannabis decision maker on whether or not opioid addicts can legally obtain derivatives of the plant to aid in trying to defeat an opioid addiction. New Mexico Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher is expected to decide soon whether to accept or reject, for the third time, a recommendation from a board of medical professionals to add opioid use disorder to the list of 21 conditions that currently qualify someone to be a part of the state’s medical cannabis program. Gallagher has not indicated publicly if she will add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions. Documents obtained by NM Political Report, through an Inspection of Public Records Act request, show staff discussions about recommended conditions an advisory board sent to Gallagher.