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Pennsylvania Department of Health Medical Marijuana Board Meets To Discuss Future

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Controlling chronic pain is a challenge.

It is one of the reasons certain areas of the country, including southwestern Pennsylvania, have struggled so much with the opioid epidemic.

One popular option is medical marijuana. But it is not enough for some patients.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health Medical Marijuana Board is marking its fifth anniversary. Jim Horvath has been part of the program for almost a year.

"I wanted to make sure it was here to stay. I've been in it for about 10 months now. And it has been treating me very well," Horvath said.

More than 500,000 patients and caregivers participate in the program and receive medical marijuana for one of 23 serious medical conditions.

"It's really a broad range of conditions," said Dr. Jack Kabazie, an AHN pain specialist. "We certified here over 900 patients. We have to go over the risks complications of medical marijuana. It's a medication, just like any other medication."

So far, 114 dispensaries are operational, with 34 million products dispensed and $1 million in sales.

"We've also kept probably 200 patients from even starting opioids by using medical marijuana for chronic pain. So it has been a real godsend to many of our patients," said Kabazie.

With more production and competition, the price of the predominant product, which is dry leaf marijuana, has come down from $300 to $140 per unit. But the patients, some of whom are on disability, worry about the cost.

"Even with that decline, it's still not covered by insurance," said Dr. John Collins, director of the Office of Medical Marijuana. "It is still cash, and it is a tremendous expense for our patients."

The board decided to table the application for traumatic brain injury as an approved condition for medical marijuana use. The board will revisit this at its August meeting.

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