On Thursday New Mexico officials expanded the state's medical marijuana program to allow patients suffering from opioid use disorder to access cannabis as a potential treatment.
Advocates have been trying for years to get opioid addiction added to the list of condition that qualify for treatment with medical marijuana in New Mexico. However, previous attempts had been continually rejected by former Gov. Susana Martinez (R). But things have changed thanks to her successor, Governor Michelle Lujan (D), who called the change to New Mexico's medical marijuana program a much needed step after "too many years of status quo."
"We need to explore and pursue every available means of responding to the health and wellness needs of our neighbors here in New Mexico," Governor Lujan Grisham told the Albuquerque Journal.
Opioid use disorder was one of several new additions—alongside Alzheimer's disease and autism—to the list of conditions treatable with medical marijuana. State Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel said the expansion of New Mexico's medical marijuana program means more patients have the ability to find the treatment option that works best for them.
"Thousands of New Mexicans may find relief from their symptoms through medical cannabis that they can’t get anywhere else," she said in a statement.
New Mexico has been particularity hard hit by the opioid epidemic in recent years. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that there were 16.7 opioid related deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, putting them above the national average. Additionally, a state Health Department study found that 63 percent of residents know someone who was or is addicted to opioids.
A number of recent studies suggest that improved access to medical marijuana may be associated with decreased rates of opioid use, and that cannabis could function as an effective means for reducing a person's dependency on these dangerous drugs.
By allowing those suffering from opioid use disorder to access medical marijuana s a potential treatment, New Mexico joins New Jersey and other states that are using cannabis to fight the opioid epidemic.