Davich: Indiana goes too far — backward — in medical marijuana debate
JERRY DAVICH May 8, 2014 6:24PM
Updated: June 10, 2014 6:11AM
Judy Brown smokes pot on a regular basis and she’s not afraid to say so.
“I need it to help offset my chronic pain from injuries I sustained in a car accident in 1986,” the LaPorte woman told me while waiting to see her pain management physician.
Along with her husband, Brown, 60, sat in the office lobby of Indiana University Health in Michigan City and studied a word puzzle. The elusive words she continues to search for in this state, however, are “medical marijuana.”
“Legalizing medical marijuana would certainly help my situation and the situations of thousands of other Indiana residents with more serious health issues than me,” said Brown, who uses a cane to walk.
Last month, Brown was asked to take a costly drug-screen blood test and also to sign a “controlled substance treatment agreement,” with her physician, Dr. David Miller, a pain management specialist. The five-page agreement cites a lengthy list of criteria, including this statement that Brown was asked to agree to: “I will not use illegal/street drugs (including marijuana).”
She refused to sign the agreement, though she took the drug screen, knowing full well that marijuana would be detected in her system. Her doctor knew full well too, she said.
“I told him that I smoke marijuana,” she said flatly.
Her test showed signs of pot, which raised red flags for the doctor’s office.
“I was told that my drug treatment medication would no longer be issued or it would be reduced to maintenance level so I could avoid withdrawal symptoms,” she said.
Brown was livid about this treatment change and had concerns of having to smoke pot more often to compensate for fewer pain meds. (Watch the video at http://posttrib.suntimes.com/news/davich/index.html.)
“I’m being treated as if I’ve done something wrong, and I know I haven’t,” she said. “I am not a kid. I’m not a criminal, not even a speeding ticket. This is a serious situation for me and they have no right to question me or my lifestyle choices for better health.”
“I think I was set up to fail this particular drug screening test,” she added.
I contacted Indiana University Health to ask if it has a policy for patients who use medicinal marijuana, including mandatory drug screens, and if it conflicts with their care and pain meds.
“It appears we have no such a policy since medical marijuana is illegal in Indiana,” said IU Health spokesman Gene Ford.
I also contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which reminded me of its class-action lawsuit filed earlier this year against the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana. The suit challenges the constitutionality of a new rule requiring some pain patients to submit to mandatory drug testing.
In a nutshell, it seeks a court order to prohibit the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana from requiring patients who receive certain opioid pain meds to sign a treatment agreement, similar to what Brown was asked to sign.
Other pain management centers and clinics across the country have similar drug-testing policies, though the ACLU and other medical marijuana advocates are against this.
“The Fourth Amendment protects all of us from government-mandated searches unless there is cause or justification,” said Kenneth Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, in a statement. “The mandatory drug testing simply goes too far.”
“Yes it does,” Brown told me. “I understand what the state is trying to do but it’s doing it the wrong way. It should instead legalize medical marijuana like all those other states.”
To date, 21 states (including Illinois on Jan. 1 of this year) have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana. Approved conditions in Illinois include debilitating medical conditions and 40 chronic diseases, such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease and many more.
I’m not sure if it includes a rare genetic disorder called Aicardi syndrome, which affects just a few children in this country, including 2-year-old Adalyn Hiles of Griffith. The adorable toddler was born with the little-known disorder and suffers clusters of scary seizures every day that last up to 10 minutes at a time.
“She is a trooper, but every day is a struggle,” said her father, Jason Hiles, who also advocates for legalizing medical marijuana.
“Indiana has laws about medical marijuana that if eased up on could be potentially helpful to Addie’s condition,” he told me. “Many Aicardi families, as we call them, are moving to states like Colorado to have their (children) use medical marijuana to help control their seizures.”
Little Addie is currently on four different seizure meds, and the family faces a serious financial hardship June 1 when the state takes away her Medicaid coverage through its spend-down program.
“We still have primary insurance, but Medicaid was picking up what the insurance would not cover,” Hiles said.
That’s a whole other column for me, but Addie’s parents also are upset that she won’t be legally allowed to curb her seizures with medical marijuana. Addie has never used marijuana, yet, but the average lifespan of “Aicardi kids” is just 18 years, her father said.
Legalizing medical marijuana will probably not happen anytime soon in this slow-to-change, conservative state, which doesn’t bode well for Brown and many others in her “time is ticking” situation.
The question is, will it be legalized in time for younger generations of Hoosiers, such as Addie, who may suffer literally thousands more seizures while waiting on our lawmakers to ride their horse-and-buggies into the 21st century?
I’m not very hopeful, how about you?
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.