New York: Medical Marijuana Advocates Launch Billboard Campaign For Veterans, Other PTSD Patients

PTSDIsNotCoveredLiftTheLimitsNY[DrugPolicyAlliance]

Billboards to Run In Syracuse, Rochester, Albany and Other Media Markets Across the State

Patient Advocates Ask Cuomo Administration to Grant Veterans Suffering from PTSD Access to Medical Marijuana

Compassionate Care NY and the Drug Policy Alliance on Tuesday launched a billboard campaign to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) added to the list of conditions covered by New York’s medical marijuana law.

The first billboard was put up in Syracuse on Route 690 East, with others to follow in Rochester, Albany, and other media markets across the state. The billboard directs people to a petition encouraging Governor Cuomo and Health Commissioner Zucker to add PTSD as one of the medical conditions for which patients can receive medical marijuana in New York.

"There are several other states that include PTSD under their medical marijuana programs,” said Donna Romano, a Vietnam Era veteran of the US Navy from Syracuse, New York. “Why isn't PTSD included in New York? I am a veteran myself, and I believe that the people who serve this country should have access to treatments that actually work when they come home.

"The science is real, and the research is strong," Romano said. "Cannabis helps treat PTSD, and veterans who call New York home should have this option. As it stands now, New York’s medical marijuana program is quite limited, and it leaves out thousands of people struggling with PTSD. That is unacceptable. PTSD should be added to the list of covered conditions immediately."

New York’s medical marijuana law, which was passed in June 2014 and is expected to become operational in January 2016, has been criticized as being overly restrictive and excluding patients who could benefit. Currently, the bill covers only ten conditions, but the Health Commissioner has the authority to add additional conditions at any time. Moreover, the law instructs the Commissioner to determine by January 2016 whether an additional five conditions, including PTSD, should be covered by the program.

"There are 22 veterans a day who commit suicide in this country. I easily could have become part of that statistic if it wasn't for cannabis,” said Shawn Majors, US Navy veteran from Attica, New York.” After being diagnosed with PTSD, the anti-depressants I was prescribed had me sleepwalking and put me in dangerous situations, and they were not effective.

"Cannabis became the voice of reason for me – my anxiety, my anger, and my frustration were all less intense because of cannabis," Majors said. "I can honestly say that it saved my life. And that is why PTSD needs to be included under the New York medical marijuana program."

According to the New York State Office of Mental Health, PTSD is estimated to occur in about 30 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War veterans, 6 percent to 11 percent of veterans of the Afghanistan war, and 12 percent to 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq war. Unfortunately, PTSD drives high rates of suicide among veterans. The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that on average, 22 veterans die from suicide each day.

"Across the state of New York, there are thousands of people suffering from PTSD - among them many veterans who have served our country,” said Annette Simiele of MS Resources of Central New York, a group that spearheaded the billboard campaign. “They deserve adequate medical care. PTSD needs to be added to the list of covered conditions under the medical marijuana program.

"Otherwise, our government is doing a grave disservice to the men and women who have sacrificed so much in the name of service to their country," Simiele said. "We need to do better."

Approximately half of states with medical marijuana programs include PTSD as a qualifying medical condition, recognizing that medical marijuana can help alleviate an illness that is notoriously hard to treat. Studies have found that medical cannabis can reduce the severity of PTSD and emotional distress and improve social functioning and sleep.

“The evidence that medical cannabis can alleviate the symptoms of PTSD is strong,” said Julie Netherland, PhD, of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “As we remember the service of our military on this Veterans Day, I hope that Governor Cuomo will take this concrete step to offer them care -- add PTSD to the list of conditions for which a doctor can recommend medical cannabis. Our veterans and others suffering with PTSD deserve access to every tool that might help them.”