Statement by New York Commissioner of Health
As a physician, I took an oath to, first, do no harm. As New York’s acting commissioner of health, I upheld that promise in helping shape legislation that was enacted earlier this month to establish a medical marijuana program in this state.
Our goal at the New York state Department of Health has always been to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to the best and safest treatments possible. To deny a patient of a potential therapy — such as medical marijuana — that may alleviate suffering and enhance one’s quality of life fails to meet that vital goal. Equally important, however, is the need to ensure patient safety in any new treatment we pursue.
This program, which will be guided by the most compelling scientific evidence, strikes the correct balance by making medical marijuana available to patients suffering from such diseases as multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig‘s disease (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and neuropathies. The evidence suggests that medical marijuana may mitigate some symptoms associated with these conditions, including pain, severe nausea and loss of appetite.
My colleagues and I — all experienced medical professionals — carefully reviewed the existing research and literature before determining which conditions to include in this effort; these decisions were not made lightly, and they were informed by the best science available.
Medicine evolves in response to emerging research and discovery. Recognizing these dynamics, the legislation drafted specifically allows for the addition of conditions based on an evidence-based practice model.
Correctly, and in keeping with New York’s long-standing commitment to eliminate all smoking, we chose to ban the smoking of marijuana and instead limit its delivery to alternative methods including vaporization, oils, pills and other consumables. The medical literature demonstrates that the use of vaporization can deliver marijuana safely and effectively without the known dangers associated with smoking. New York state has devoted significant time and resources to eliminate smoking in all its forms, and tremendous progress has been made.
The state’s commitment to that end is unwavering, and we are pursuing a safe and effective method to deliver medical marijuana to eligible patients who may benefit.
Once a health professional identifies a patient who is eligible for medical marijuana therapy, the prescribing physician will determine the appropriate dosage based on her or his medical judgment, consistent with the Department of Health’s guidance and regulations. As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved medical marijuana use, it is the department’s responsibility at this time, in loco parentis, to do what is believed to be medically the safest and best regarding this new therapeutic option.
In the wake of New York’s new legislation, The New York Times, among others, is calling on the federal government to repeal its ban on marijuana, much in the same way Prohibition was lifted on alcohol. Given the medical literature, we believe marijuana at this time is best limited to medicinal usage and only in select patients.
Questions remain about the health effects of marijuana.
Another tenet of the Hippocratic Oath underpins this legislation: To fully apply one’s ability and judgment to do what is best for the patient. I share in the commitment made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and our legislative leaders to expeditiously implement this program to enable as many eligible patients as possible to access medical marijuana therapy.
Howard A. Zucker, M.D., J.D., is the state’s acting commissioner of health.
Article by: Howard A. Zucker, Commentary