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Opioid use being added to medical marijuana qualifications

The New York State Health Department plans to make medical marijuana available to more New Yorkers. Opioid use will be the newest addition to the list of qualifying conditions under the state’s medical marijuana program.

The health department characterized the decision as a step toward curbing the opioid epidemic, saying that medical marijuana treats the pain that opioids are meant to address while also reducing the chance of addiction and eliminating the risk of a fatal overdose.

Overdose deaths statewide involving opioids almost tripled from 2010-2016, while the Erie County Medical Examiner’s office has confirmed 233 opioid overdose fatalities for 2017, with another 35 cases suspected. In 2016, 301 individuals died of an opioid overdose in Erie County.

Before Monday’s announcement, the most recent addition to the list of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana was post-traumatic stress disorder. The state legislature approved that measure on Veterans Day last year.

Adding opioid use to the list will come as a regulatory amendment to the rules surrounding the state’s medical marijuana program, which means it will not require legislative approval, according to a spokesperson for the state health department.

The details of the change are still being worked out, but state health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said he expects the move to “save countless lives across the state.”

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