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Veterans Want Coverage For Medical Marijuana

Cassandra Basler / WSHU

At the counter of a dispensary in South Windsor, Conn., veteran Eddie Adkins flipped through a laminated menu of medical marijuana strains, doses and prices. He asked dispensary technician Lauren Boyette about a Cannibis sativa strain that he needs to treat his PTSD.

“Do you have any of the new stuff yet?” Adkins asked.

“Not the updated shipment," Boyette said. "We do have some new flowers coming in on Wednesday.”

Adkins decided he will wait to come back when the shipment  comes in. Adkins has PTSD and injuries in his brain and spine. He used to take a cocktail of prescription opioids and mood regulators.

“You tend to get addicted to them after a while because it’s not doing what it used to do,” Adkins said. “So now, you’re 15, 16 pills three times a day because in your mind you don’t think you’re getting enough.”

Adkins said he pays about $200 a month out-of-pocket for his medical marijuana because it helps him feel like himself again.

“I stopped taking all those pills, I started smoking marijuana and look at me. Here I am today, I can function…I can have a conversation, I can be in public,” Adkins said. “My kids actually want to be around me.”

Despite the difference it has made for Adkins’ quality of life, insurance companies don’t cover medical marijuana treatments. Last month, Connecticut approved six more medical conditions that qualify patients for the state medical marijuana program. Currently, more than 9,000 patients have state-issued medical marijuana cards. All of them pay for the medication out-of-pocket.

Murphy said the federal government should make it easier for patients to wean off of prescription opioids and move onto medical marijuana to help reduce the nation’s opioid addiction problem.

“Marijuana is a much less dangerous drug than OxyContin and Oxycodone is today,” Murphy said. “We are dealing with the consequences of a heroin epidemic that stems from an abuse of a widely available and legal drug.”

Atkins and a half dozen other veterans told U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Monday that they want their insurance companies to cover medical marijuana to treat chronic pain and PTSD the way they cover prescription opioids. Before that can happen, the federal government would have to declare that marijuana has medical uses.

Right now, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. That means the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says marijuana has no medical benefit.

Murphy co-sponsored a bill on Monday that would force the DEA to change marijuana to a Schedule 2 drug for medical use. The Senate bill has 17 co-sponsors, including three Republicans.  

“I’ll be honest. I don’t know that the votes are there right now to pass the legislation,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the DEA and FDA are currently considering whether to reclassify marijuana as a prescription drug like OxyContin.

“It’s more likely that the DEA and the FDA will do it on their own,” Murphy said. “But we think this legislation will provide a push."

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