Gov. Phil Murphy believes the move will help combat the enduring opioid epidemic, which claimed the lives of about 3,000 people in NJ last year.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday announced the addition of opioid addiction to the list of conditions that qualify patients for medical marijuana. According to the state Department of Health, physicians can begin recommending cannabis for opioid addiction immediately.
“We are pleased to announce that, as of today, opioid use disorder is a condition for which physicians can recommend medical marijuana to patients,” Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the state health commissioner, said in a press release.
Opioid drug overdose deaths continue to rise in New Jersey. According to Murphy, more than 3,000 individuals in New Jersey died due to overdoses last year, up 15 percent from 2017.
Murphy announced the change at Cooper University Hospital in Camden alongside seven of his Cabinet members.
“The opioid epidemic continues to devastate families and communities across our state,” said Gov. Murphy. “As we combat this crisis, it is critical that we use data-driven, evidence-based strategies to support individuals suffering from addiction and help them get on the path to recovery.”
Today I announced new initiatives to fight the opioid epidemic, including removing the requirement for prior authorization for Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and adding opioid addiction as an eligible condition to our medical marijuana program.https://t.co/Uswebrrqi8 pic.twitter.com/BTnNi5zfHd
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) January 23, 2019
A growing body of research suggests that marijuana can help those addicted to opioids by preventing withdrawal and reducing cravings for opioid drugs. Researchers last year found that daily marijuana use was associated with greater treatment retention rates.
The Department had received a petition seeking to add opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition and in October announced it was exploring the idea.
Last year, Murphy expanded the state’s list of qualifying conditions by adding anxiety, migraine, Tourette syndrome, and two types of chronic pain. That move resulted in about 9,000 new patients joining New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, bringing the total number of registered patients to about 34,000.
New Jersey’s Broad Attack on Opioid Addiction
Murphy unveiled a broad attack on opioid addiction. In addition to adding it as a qualifying condition, the state has removed the prior-authorization requirement for Medicaid coverage of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), a scientifically proven treatment method combining medications and behavioral therapy.
Murphy’s strategy also includes $2 million to expand the services available from syringe exchange programs.
He also announced that Medicaid would build opioid treatment centers at Cooper and at Rutgers’ New Jersey Medical School.
“We cannot defeat the opioid epidemic and we cannot win the fight against addiction, if we do not work together – and that’s exactly what we have been doing,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
“While prescription opioid use is down, in the first few weeks of 2019 we have already had over 100 suspected overdose deaths. To save lives – we are coordinating an all-hands-on-deck response – across government and within the Department of Law and Public Safety. We are bringing all of our resources to bear to unleash a full attack on drug addiction. We are in this fight together,” he added.