Marijuana and Cannabis News

Arizona health department questions high number of "chronic pain" medical cannabis recommendations
By William Breathes in Medical, News, Opinion
Monday, November 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm

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Health officials in Arizona say they want more detailed information on medical marijuana patients claiming "chronic pain" on their state applications in an effort to cut down on falsified recommendations, they say.

We say they're sticking their noses where they shouldn't be.

The Arizona Department of Health Services says that patients have claimed chronic pain as their main reason for using medical cannabis about 26,500 times. That's equal to about 73 percent of all medical marijuana patients in the state, and officials say it's indicative of a problem because, they argue, there can't be that many people in pain. It has to be due to doctors writing recommendations improperly, they argue.

They clearly haven't done their research.

According to the National Academy of Pain Medicine and the Institute of Medicine of the National, independent studies show that more than 100 million people in this country suffer from chronic pain. In 2010 it was estimated that the total annual costs in terms of both health care costs as well as disability pay, lost wages and productivity in the U.S. could be as high as $635 billion dollars.

Put another way: One in five Americans say that pain or discomfort disrupts their sleep multiple nights a week. Low back pain is the most common reported chronic pain for adults under 45 years old, with 26 million Americans between 20 and 54 suffering from constant back pains. There's loads more data to pour through on the subject of chronic pain, but it all points to one thing: we are in pain as a nation.

So, back to Arizona where just .41 percent of the entire state population has reported chronic pain and want the option of using a natural alternative to pharmaceutical drugs for pain relief. With a national average of about 20 percent of the population reporting chronic pain, why is less than 1 percent of the population even raising eyebrows?

Because in Arizona, a small number of physicians has written a large number of recommendations and that is suspicious to the health department. Only 472 physicians out of thousands in the state have written the 36,346 total accepted recommendations medical cannabis, which the state says indicates that the doctors aren't being thorough enough. The state also argues that the majority of those recommendations are being written by naturopathic physicians (docs who combine Eastern and Western ideas of holistic medicine) and not actual medical doctors.

Which, mind you, is completely legal in Arizona.

"It's a problem that all the states (that allow medical-marijuana use) face: Just a handful of physicians write the certifications," Will Humble, director of the state health department, said to the Arizona Republic last week. "We've got to start doing a better job to broaden the base -- and I don't mean writing more certifications -- but ... have them be written closer to the patients medical home."

But what Humble is completely ignoring is the stigma that many doctors still see with recommending medical cannabis to patients. It makes sense that only a few doctors would be willing to stick their necks out there while cannabis remains federally illegal. It also makes sense that a treatment with thousands of anecdotal trials and examples but few clinical trials and examples wouldn't see widespread acceptance. The small number of doctors writing recommendations for cannabis a function of our past marijuana prohibition, not dishonest doctors.

Are there people out there faking injuries to get a recommendation? Sure there are. But that happens with all drugs, and it also doesn't mean that someone claiming chronic pain is faking an ailment. If the doctor was dishonest, why wouldn't they select any of the other qualifying conditions?

Instead, the department should be focusing on actual complaints instead of fabricating problems to fix. And most importantly: leave the care of patients up to the doctors, not a bunch of bureaucrats.

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