By Morgan Lee, Associated Press
(AP) — A state at the forefront of the U.S. opioid and drug overdose epidemic is turning to its medical marijuana program to reduce suffering from drug use and addiction.
New Mexico health officials on Thursday expanded the list of qualifying conditions for the state’s medical cannabis program to include opioid use disorder, joining several other states. Other qualifying conditions that were added include Alzheimer’s disease, autism spectrum disorder and three degenerative neurological disorders.
First-year Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a former state health secretary, campaigned on a pledge to open up the medical marijuana program to people struggling with opioid use and addiction after the previous administration rejected petitions for the change.
Lujan Grisham said Thursday’s decision was long overdue.
“We need to explore and pursue every available means of responding to the health and wellness needs of our neighbors here in New Mexico,” the governor said. “Compassion must guide our decision making.”
In 2017, New Mexico had the highest rate of drug overdose deaths west of Tennessee, at 24.8 per 100,000 people. The mortality rate has leveled off as New Mexico adopted a series of pioneering policies aimed at combating opioid addiction.
At least eight other states — from Maine to California — along with Washington, D.C., already recognize opioid dependency as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana use, either explicitly or within the bounds of significant medical conditions, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Board of doctors also recommended the addition of other qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, including substance use disorders linked to tobacco, alcohol and stimulants.
Participation in the state’s medical cannabis program has surged to more than 73,000 patients.
AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan