When Brian Wielder, an AIDS patient, moved from California to Syracuse with his husband Javier, his monthly medical marijuana cost increased from about $75 to $400.
“People will freak out when they go to the dispensary,” Wieder said. “They will have to bring hundreds of dollars with them.”
Wieder previously owned his own healthcare recruiting company, and was director of human resources at St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco and Sheraton International in Hong Kong. He was diagnosed with AIDS in 2004.
Wieder experiences a type of neuropathy that causes severe shooting pain in his feet, legs and other parts of the body.
“The pain is like two buzz saws giving off flaming sparks all through my legs, feet, groin, back and my throat,”
Wieder said. His other symptoms include nausea, dizziness, difficulty walking and blindness. He’s on 19 prescription drugs, including morphine. When Wieder uses medical marijuana, he says,
“I’m in a better place and I don’t dwell as much on the pain.”
New York launched its medical marijuana program in January, and remains one of the most highly restrictive and expensive programs in the nation. Qualifying conditions include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, neuropathy, inflammatory bowel disease, Huntington’s disease, HIV and AIDS.
Dr. Elizabeth Asiago-Reddy, medical director of Upstate Medical University’s Designated AIDS Center, provided Wieder with his medical marijuana prescription. Out of her 1200 patients, she has prescribed medical marijuana to ten of them.
New York patients who have enrolled in the program have found it to be too expensive, turning to the black market for more affordable relief.
“That’s unfortunate because these are people who prefer not to do things that are illegal,”
Many HIV and AIDS patients use medical marijuana to treat their symptoms, as the diseases systematically destroy the immune system, reducing the body’s ability to fight off infection. AIDS eventually damages the nervous system, causing acute pain and nausea.
HIV and AIDS patients in New York may qualify for the medical marijuana program, but only if they experience wasting syndrome, acute or chronic pain, acute nausea, seizures, or chronic muscle spasms, in addition to having HIV or AIDS.
Asiago-Reddy is frustrated by the lack of information for standardized dosing. “We all need to ask ourselves as a country and a medical system, ‘Can we formalize the process for evaluating herbal medications?'” Asiago-Reddy said. “Right now as providers we’re all stabbing in the dark for medications that may or may not be very effective for certain conditions.”
Weider already knows medical marijuana works for him. Now he just needs to finds an affordable option. “All of a sudden there is something that will make your quality of life better, but you can’t really touch it,” he said.
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