NYS Dept. of Health announces expansion of medical marijuana program

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AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB)- Hundreds of New Yorkers are expected to turn to medical marijuana now that the State Department of Health announced it’s expanding the program.

The Health Department unveiled about a dozen changes on Tuesday.

“I was ecstatic because we were fighting for these all along,” said Daniel Ryszka, a pharmacist and parent.

Medical marijuana has drastically improved the quality of life for Ryszka’s daughter.

“It’s like the light in her went on,” he said. “She was more aware of her surroundings, the seizures were still there but they kind of weren’t as bad.”

Ryszka told News 4 his daughter went from having multiple seizures a night, to just one a month. He started his son on the drug and said they were able to take him off of an oxygen machine.

There are about 7,000 patients across the state registered to use medical marijuana.

As part of the changes, the Health Department will soon allow nurse practitioners to certify patients.

“It’s a game changer in my opinion,” said Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, with Dent Neurologic Institute.

Dr. Mechtler expects this will double the number of patients they see.

“It will free up physicians to see newer patients and do follow ups with nurse practitioners,” said Dr. Mechtler. “In addition, where nurse practitioners are working in areas of New York State where there are no physicians, it will allow those nurse practitioners to be primary care givers for medical marijuana.”

The Health Department also announced it will review the use of medical marijuana for patients suffering from chronic pain and expect to make a decision on that within the next 90 days.

“We have shown by research recently in states that have approved medical marijuana there’s been a 25 percent decrease in deaths from opiates that are prescribed,” he said. “I think New York State realized because of our opiate epidemic it may be time not only to allow physicians to prescribe medical marijuana but more importantly start doing research on medical marijuana to see what are the indications of where we should use this botanical plant.”

Ryszka would like to see it used to help with PTSD, fibromyalgia, or possibly Alzheimer’s.

Another big change is that dispensaries will be able to do home deliveries. News 4 reached out to both facilities in Western New York, Pharmacann and Bloomfield Industries, but neither returned our calls.

The Department of Health plans to double the number of organizations that can dispense medical marijuana from five to 10 over the next two years.

“Having other companies there might [allow for] less [of a] drive for some of the patients,” said Ryszka. “I think more competition might drive the price down.”

Both Ryszka and Dr. Mechtler said not every problem was addressed in the changes.

“Obviously I would like more,” said Dr. Mechtler. “There’s no mention of the cost of medical marijuana and how expensive it is for our patients and that’s a real issue. Some of our patients are paying over $1,000 a month and this is not covered by insurance.”

He also wants to see more opportunities for research.

“It’s very difficult for us to perform any type of research with medical marijuana because Schedule 1 licensing for research is really hard to get,” said Dr. Mechtler.

For a full list of the changes to the medical marijuana program, click here.

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