Twenty-one year Army and Air Force veteran Matthew Rumple became addicted to opioids after being given morphine to deal with an injury he suffered while serving in Iraq. These days, Rumple is clean and spends his time advocating for better treatment for veterans. In particular, Rumple wants to see medical marijuana become a legal option for wounded vets, but since the federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug, it can’t be recommended by VA physicians.
Rumple recognizes that marijuana has some drawbacks, but he believes it is a viable solution for managing both pain and PTSD, and would probably save some lives.
"We have more of the worst drugs in our systems now than [cannabis] could ever do to us," Rumple recently told WEAR TV - an ABC affiliate in Pensacola, Florida.
As it stands now, veterans with medical issues are prescribed by the VA what Rumple and others refer to as a “combat cocktail,” which is a gateway to lifelong drug addiction for many former soldiers.
"Anytime they give you something, they're going to give you an additional medication to counteract the side effects from the first one. It has become a nightmare. For a lot of guys, it starts their world of opioids."
Branda Ross, a veteran of the Alabama National Guard agrees with Rumple. She faced her own issues with drug abuse after a workplace injury landed her on the path to opioid addiction. But she overcame opioid dependence with the help of medical marijuana.
Ross’s sentiments about the combat cocktails echoes Rumple’s: "I think that medical marijuana is the best answer that we have, not just for intractable pain, but for veterans that are suffering from PTSD. The cocktails are killing people, veterans are dying every day, they are committing suicide and they deserve the option."
But as along as marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, VA doctors can't recommend cannabis to vets, who could "lose [their] VA benefits if they get caught using it," according to Rumple. So many former soldiers have to choose between those benefits or adequate pain management.
That could change if Congressman Matt Gaetz has a say. The Florida Republican has introduced a bill that would reclassify cannabis as a Schedule III drug, allowing for greater access by patients - including veterans. Gaetz is also planning to present legislation that would alleviate restrictions on medical marijuana research and would also loosen the "gag rule" preventing VA doctors from discussing medical marijuana with vets.
So Rumple's fight for safer medicine could end in victory for veterans across the country.