A free hotline service to help Arizonans with opioid addiction will open this week. But, sadly, the Arizona Opioid Assistance and Referral Line will not recommend medical marijuana as an alternative option, even though many studies have confirmed its effectiveness.
In Arizona, there have been 942 opioid-related deaths between June 2017 and February 2018, according to Phoenix New Times. The hotline hopes to be a piece of the puzzle to solving the state’s growing opioid crisis. Dr. Dan Brooks of the Banner Poison and Drug Information Centers said, “It’s not part of the protocol. We don’t have any initial plans to talk about marijuana.”
Dr. Cara Christ of Arizona Dept of Health Services said, “Preventing opioid overdoses and deaths in our state needs a multifaceted approach, and the new hotline is a major step forward as it will give medical providers immediate access to experts who can help to ensure safe prescribing and to identify treatment options for patients, which may or may not include opioids. No two patients are the same and treatments vary based on individual needs, so we need to make sure we are providing tailored resources to our medical community.”
The Poison and Drug Information Centers, along with AZDHS, will restructure advice for providers and will include recommendations along the lines of specific information including safe subscribing, identifying dangerous drug combinations and other treatments for chronic pain. Vivitrol or methadone may be recommended for some patients. Those answering the hotline will be pharmacists, nurses and doctors.
Brooks said, “If they have questions about marijuana, we’ll answer questions. I don’t know anyone who’s advising marijuana as an alternative.”
Medical marijuana has proven to benefit many patients in regard to pain management. Some also suggest that it should be considered as a substitute to opiates. Studies have shown a steep decline in opioid-related overdose deaths where marijuana is legalized. Arizona has not yet been involved in any of those studies.
Blue Door Therapeutics in Scottsdale is a treatment center in the Valley that does include marijuana as an option to help get people off opioid medications. Small doses, under supervision, of either THC or CBD are administered to patients as suppositories, sublingual sprays, capsules or vaping.
Dr. Gina Berman, co-founder of Blue Door Therapeutics, says that marijuana does help with withdrawal symptoms, insomnia and chronic pain. She said, “The ultimate goal is for patients to be free of medication.”
For now, the hotline will be merely informational. Brooks said, “We’re not trying to add other medications and drugs to the regimen. People are on too many drugs.”
Plans to expand the program to provide referrals are expected this spring. AHCCCS and AZDHS will fund the hotline.