In Kentucky we have started the debate about medical marijuana at the state level. There have been several committee hearings in which legislators have been presented with testimonies from industry and medical experts, patients with illnesses that range from drug-resistant seizure disorders to cancer, and even veterans such as myself. However, in spite of all of the data that points to medical marijuana being a safer and more effective alternative to opiate -based pain medication and anti-anxiety medications used to treat many veterans, the state legislature has continued to kick the can down the road.
Kentucky has over 50,000 veterans who suffer from PTSD. The VA hospitals in Louisville and Lexington are prescribing opiate-based pain medication to veterans at extremely high rates, 94.7 prescriptions per 100 patients and 145.6 prescriptions per 100 patients respectively (according to the Center for Investigative Reporting).
Kentucky’s over 300,000 vets are clearly suffering from both psychologically and physically painful conditions. So far, the only treatment options available for doctors to prescribe often carry high risks of addiction. In many cases, overdoses with these medications result in death.
Our veterans deserve better for the sacrifices they made in service to our country. It is shameful that they cannot have access to safer and more effective forms of medication that are made available in other states.
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Polling by Kentucky news organizations has found that most Kentuckians are in favor of allowing doctors to recommend medical marijuana for treatment. Even our very own Sen. Rand Paul recognizes this injustice. Paul introduced a bill in Congress that would allow VA doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients in states where medical marijuana laws have been passed. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to pass an amendment on this last year with a vote of 18-12.
We know the veterans need access to medical marijuana. We know that the majority citizens of Kentucky support the use of medical marijuana. We know that Paul is in favor of medical marijuana. However, someone must have forgotten to inform Sen. Mitch McConnell that we want his support on this issue.
McConnell was one of the 12 senators who voted against the amendment in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Currently a Veterans Affairs directive means that veterans are not able to even discuss medical marijuana with VA physicians. Even in Kentucky, with its limited cannabidiol law, my VA physician is prohibited from discussing with me how this law or this limited form of medical marijuana could help me.
With every day that goes by our country loses more veterans to overdoses and suicides that could have been prevented by the passing of this legislation.
In the coming days, McConnell has a chance to vote on the amendment again. He knows the issues that our state is facing opioid abuse and overdoses, so why would he block veterans — in Kentucky and across the country — from accessing a safer form of medicine?
McConnell should respect the will of the people and the veterans who put him in office by placing his full support behind this provision.
Danny Belcher of Owingsville served in Vietnam in 1968-69 as a combat infantry sergeant.