Legal medical industry in Arizona
Arizona Hemp Center's Medical Marijuana Blog is a continually updated resource of news and information regarding proposition 203 in Arizona and medical marijuana use across the country. Our goal is to help promote the drug as a viable method of treatment for certain illnesses, and also share best practices for consumption on medical marijuana.
Arizona health officials want to strengthen the controversial medical-marijuana program to crack down on physicians who improperly recommend marijuana, train physicians who write most certifications and make it easier to revoke patient cards if health officials suspect wrongdoing.
Health officials also want to study how effective marijuana is in treating debilitating conditions, such as cancer, and examine whether marijuana affects opiate dependency, impacts vehicle-traffic injuries and impacts pregnancy outcomes and breastfeeding. Such studies would require changes to the law, which restricts the scope of information state health officials can obtain from physicians and patients.
The recommendations are contained in the state’s inaugural report of the medical-marijuana program, approved by voters in 2010 to allow people with certain debilitating medical conditions, to use marijuana. They must obtain a recommendation from a physician and register with the state, which issues identification cards to qualified patients and caregivers.
The new report covers April 2011 through June and includes for the first time, in a comprehensive format, a detailed breakdown of the types of physicians that are recommending medical marijuana.
During that time period, the Department of Health Services received 41,476 applications — both renewals and new submissions — and approved about 98percent. Because of the report’s time frame of more than a year, some cardholders may have been counted twice in that number —when they initially applied and when they renewed their annual card.
There were 29,804 total active cardholders reported, which included 28,977 qualifying patients and 827 caregivers.
Most patients cited one medical condition while less than a quarter reported two or more conditions. About 70percent of patients cited “severe and chronic pain” as their only medical condition.
The report states that 475 physicians recommended marijuana for the 28,977 patients. Ten of those physicians certified nearly half of all patients.
Eighty naturopaths, who combine traditional medicine and natural medical approaches to treat patients, certified 18,057 patients while 332 medical doctors certified 8,574 patients. Sixty-one osteopaths certified 2,329 patients and two homeopaths certified 17 patients.
State Department of Health Services Director Will Humble said he was disappointed that so few physicians were writing so many marijuana recommendations.
“I had hoped that we wouldn’t have this tight concentration of specialties who are writing these,” he said.
Humble said the numbers raise concerns that patients are seeking recommendations from “certification mills” instead of primary-care doctors who are generally more well-versed about individual patients’ medical histories. He said medical doctors may be less willing to write marijuana certifications because they didn’t study marijuana as a treatment in medical school.
Humble said the figures bolstered his belief that state health officials should develop intense training for high-volume certifiers, along with licensing medical boards to ensure physicians are not breaking the law. He also wants to be able to more quickly identify physicians who are improperly recommending pot.
Humble also wants to explore the idea of temporarily suspending patients’ cards if officials suspect wrongdoing and want to investigate. Currently, cards remain active until a final decision is made, “thus, providing immunity to potential misuse” of the law, the report says.
His agency will soon spend more than $1.2millionto, in part, weed out physicians who improperly recommend marijuana to patients as well as to help train marijuana-dispensary staff, hire private accountants or auditors to examine dispensary financial statements and hire private attorneys to assist the department with legal issues arising from the program.
The ADHS will also continue to fund a $200,000 contract with the University of Arizona College of Public Health to, in part, review published research about the effectiveness of marijuana in treating medical conditions.
Humble believes the expenses will help the state keep the medical-marijuana program as “medical” as possible.
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