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NY neurology practice seeing patients switch from opioids to medical marijuana

Among the DENT Neurologic Institute's Cannabis Clinic's 6,000 patients, 50% have now moved away from opioids and to cannabis.

AMHERST, N.Y. – At DENT Neurologic Institute’s Cannabis Clinic, doctors see more and more patients transition off of opioids and onto medical marijuana.

“This is an excellent option in today's world,” said Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, DENT’s medical director.

Among the clinic’s 6,000 patients, 50% have now moved away from opioids and to cannabis. Susan Spellburg is one of those success stories.

“Throughout the years, I was on a many pain medicines,” Susan said, explaining she has been prescribed hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl. She lived with chronic pain for years, but it got much worse about 7 years ago when an MRI showed she had a tumor attached to the nerves around her spine.

"I was in a wheelchair to start,” she said. “Then I went into a walker, and a cane. I (used) a cane for many years."

Susan said she spent many days never leaving her recliner. The opioids left her tired and depressed, even though she didn’t know it at the time.

“I didn’t socialize,” Susan said. “I didn’t leave my house. I didn't even want my family over."

It all changed when Dr. Mechtler convinced Susan to try medical marijuana. She’s now completely off pain killers and is like a different person.

“Even the coloring in my face, my personality, everything about me has changed,” Susan said. “I walk without a cane now. I go shopping. I’m happy.”

Dr. Mechtler said Susan’s story isn’t unique, as there are hundreds – perhaps thousands – of Western New York patients who have dramatically improved their quality of life by switching from powerful narcotics to the relatively benign medication of cannabis.

Unfortunately, cost remains a big concern; however, Dr. Mechtler hopes the State of New York will approve a pilot project to get a payor (insurance company) to cover medical marijuana as part of a cost-benefit study.

“If they pay for (cannabis) for a period of one year, will that decrease the cost for the payor, which in turn may justify them paying for it going forward,” Dr. Mechtler explained.

The New York State Health Department said in a new report that it “recommends a pilot study with one or more third party payers to demonstrate the effects on consumption and costs in patients who are taking medical marijuana in New York State.”

Susan is able to afford her medical marijuana, but she knows of so many who cannot. She hopes such a pilot will actually happen.

"I know what (cannabis) has done for me, and I know what it can do for so many other people,” she said.

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