U.S. Veterans Deserve Marijuana Treatment Option
by Kari Boiter and Karen Gustafson
Misuse of prescription opioids has been ravaging the nation over the last several years, and our state has not been spared. Prescription overdoses are responsible for killing more Montanans than cocaine, meth and heroin combined, according to the attorney general’s office. Even those of us who have not been affected directly probably know someone who has.
For chronic pain sufferers, opioid misuse is a near-constant threat. Even worse, taking prescription painkillers over a long period of time can have debilitating side effects, especially as the patient’s tolerance increases with ongoing use.
Thankfully, some of the most vulnerable patients in our state have access to another option — medical marijuana. Montana’s medical marijuana program provides patients with conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS a safer treatment plan than prescription opioids. Medical marijuana presents a much lower risk of dependence, and there has never been a lethal overdose.
Unfortunately, Montana’s veterans, numbering 100,000 in this state, are not given the same options. In fact, VA providers are prohibited from discussing the benefits of medical marijuana, even in states where it is legal. Veterans who struggle with painful injuries have little choice but to try prescription opioids.
A recent study of more than 140,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans revealed they are more likely to engage in high-risk opioid use and, therefore, are more susceptible to overdoses. Despite this knowledge, veterans continue to be prescribed opioids at a rate that far surpasses the rest of the nation. We also know that veterans suffer from high rates of PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, and that studies show medical marijuana can help alleviate their symptoms. It is cruel to place additional obstacles in the way of vets who wish to treat their condition with healthier alternatives.
VA providers are unable to recommend medical marijuana due to a directive from the Veterans Health Administration. Though this directive expired in January, it continues to be enforced until a new directive is issued.
Daines advocates for vets
Realizing that our veterans deserve better, Sen. Steve Daines co-sponsored an amendment last year in the United States Senate Appropriations Committee that would permit the VA to discuss and recommend medical marijuana treatment options. Although it did not make it to the president’s desk, Daines penned a letter earlier this year urging the VA to enact a change in policy. It’s our hope that he continues to do right by our state’s veterans and work toward making medical marijuana an option for them.
Our veterans have been through so much. Why are we making things harder for them once they return home? In light of all the ailments that our veterans struggle with, it is a tragedy that the federal government is preventing them from receiving treatment that could help them.
With Daines’ help, we can enact change soon. Every day that passes puts more veterans at risk. Until we give them the benefits they need and deserve, we are doing an incredible disservice to our country’s finest.
Note: This material was originally written for and published by the Billings Gazette
Kari lobbying with Veterans in DC in March 2016
Karen Gustafson serving as a USAF Nurse
Karen Gustafson – the only woman in her class at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine
Karen Gustafson Head Shot