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As the New Mexico opioid crisis continues to people every day, New Mexico lawmakers are attempting to add opioid addiction to the list of qualifying conditions for the state’s medical marijuana program. Currently, opioid addiction is not included as a treatable condition in the state’s medical cannabis program. But at least one expert says it should be.

Supporters gathered Monday in Santa Fe with representatives of the Drug Policy Alliance to build support for expanding access to medical marijuana. Anita Briscoe, a retired nurse practitioner, has witnessed the opioid crisis unfold firsthand in her hometown of Española, where the heroin epidemic has destroyed countless lives.

“Over the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, I’ve seen my small town ravaged by heroin. It’s been a problem in Española for literally generations,” she said.

Now Briscoe is petitioning the state to expand its medical cannabis program to cover opioid addiction after she’s witnessed its beneficial effects firsthand.

In 2009, she said, she started noticing her patients being treated with medical marijuana for PTSD were also able to kick their heroin addictions.

“I was able to present lots of research – as were my colleagues – that says medical cannabis works to treat opiate use disorder,” Briscoe said.

State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Doña Ana County, and State Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Doña Ana County, are sponsoring memorials which, if passed, would ask New Mexico Secretary of Health Lynn Gallagher to include opioid addiction as one of those treatable conditions for medical marijuana.

“Thousands of our neighbors and relatives are suffering, and so are families and communities. The time to act in now,” said Sen. Steinborn.

An advisory panel has twice considered petitions calling for medical marijuana to be added as a tool in the fight against opioid abuse, most recently in November. The state Health Department said Monday that Secretary Lynn Gallagher is awaiting a report from the panel before making a decision.

“The secretary has this ability right now. The secretary, five minutes from now, could issue an order to do this,” Steinborn said in a Monday news conference at the Roundhouse.

Briscoe has been on the battleground for a few years; she says she petitioned the state in 2016 and 2017 with no luck.

“We are once again trying to get the secretary of health to sign the petition today,” she said.

A spokesperson for the New Mexico Department of Health sent KOB the following statement when we asked for a comment from Gallagher:

“We’re taking a comprehensive approach to fighting opioid abuse and overdose fatalities in New Mexico – including enacting laws that make lifesaving drugs like Naloxone more available than ever before, and requiring the use of a prescription drug database to help avoid overprescribing. The Department of Health will continue to responsibly administer the Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) and make sure that patients receive the most medically-appropriate treatment for their medical conditions in a way that doesn’t compromise their already vulnerable health.

On background: The Medical Cannabis Advisory Board is comprised of board-certified medical specialists who bring with them a wealth of knowledge and expertise regarding medical conditions and their treatments. The Board heard a petition last November to add opiate use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for the MCP. Secretary Gallagher is awaiting their written recommendation from that hearing, at which time she will review the scientific evidence presented and make a decision.”

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