January 12, 2017 09:52AM
By Mike Savino
HARTFORD — The state Board of Physicians on Wednesday recommended that four medical conditions be added to the list of those eligible for medical marijuana, the first step in the approval process.
The board unanimously supported adding rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, shingles, and neuropathic pain and/or spasticity associated with fibromyalgia to the list of 22 conditions already approved for medical marijuana prescriptions. The board rejected petitions for three other conditions at the same meeting.
The vote is just advisory, but Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said it will be a significant factor as he and agency staff determine which conditions to include when writing draft regulations.
The proposal would then be reviewed by the attorney general before going to the legislature for a vote, a process that likely will continue into next year.
The six members present for the meeting — Deepak Cyril D’Souza was not present and one seat remains vacant — largely focused on pain relief when discussing the benefits of medical marijuana for each condition, although noted research has also found the drug have other positive effects for some of the diagnoses.
The board must first decide whether a condition is debilitating, then must agree that research has shown marijuana to have positive effects, including decreased inflammation. Members must also consider side effects such as harming brain function or development.
Regina Walsh, speaking in support of a petition from her father, George Walsh, said her father has found little success from other treatments for his shingles, and the family would like to see if topical marijuana would perform better.
“Shingles is the one thing that is taking him down, and the medication that he goes on has contributed to further weakness,” Walsh, of North Canaan, said of her 95-year-old father.
The board did limit the cases of fibromyalgia to only cases in which patients experience neuropathic pain and/or spasticity, a muscle control disorder, because there is no test for fibromyalgia, and a diagnosis comes after eliminating other possibilities.
The board members, who have a broad range of backgrounds in the medical field, expressed concern that doctors could simply prescribe for a condition like fibromyalgia to avoid frequent visits while testing other options.
They also said they wanted to make it available for those with debilitating pain as an alternative to opioid painkillers, especially as Connecticut and the nation battle an opiate addiction epidemic.
“We have so many patients now having that diagnosis, and the standard opioids can’t be the only option for them,” said Linda Barry. “So what do we do?”
The board didn’t support petitions for eczema, osteoarthritis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/emphysema.
The members said they couldn’t see the benefits of medical marijuana for emphysema and eczema, and were also split on whether the latter qualified as a debilitating condition. The board agreed that osteoarthritis can be debilitating, particularly when it affects a patient’s spinal cord, and that medical marijuana could be beneficial in those cases.
They expressed concern, though, that the condition as referenced in the petition was too broad, noting it is another diagnosis that isn’t affirmed by a single test. They also said medical marijuana wouldn’t be appropriate under the state’s regulations for those with osteoarthritis in their hands or other parts of the body.
Only one person spoke during a public hearing prior to the votes, expressing opposition to any expansion of the list of conditions for medical marijuana. Joseph M. Samela Jr. said he was worried about misuse and abuse among patients, which could affect brain development or lead to increased incidents of driving under the influence.
Currently 15,115 residents are prescribed medical marijuana statewide from 591 physicians. A separate set of conditions, approved last year, allows minors to receive prescriptions for diagnoses.