This Feb. 19, 2013 file photo shows hydrocodone-acetaminophen pills, also known as Vicodin, arranged for a photo at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. On Thursday, July 13, 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report saying the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should review the safety and effectiveness of all opioid painkillers.

New Mexico lawmakers eye marijuana in fight against opioids

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Some New Mexico lawmakers are pushing to add opioid addiction to the list of qualifying conditions for the state’s medical marijuana program.

Supporters gathered Monday in Santa Fe with representatives of the Drug Policy Alliance to build support for expanding access to medical marijuana.

“Thousands of our neighbors and relatives are suffering, and so are families and communities. The time to act in now,” said Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces, one of the Democrats supporting the initiative.

An advisory panel has twice considered petitions calling for medical marijuana to be added as a tool in the fight against opioid abuse, most recently in November. The state Health Department said Monday that Secretary Lynn Gallagher is awaiting a report from the panel before making a decision.

New Mexico’s medical marijuana program was started a decade ago and the number of licensed patients is now nearly 48,000. In Santa Fe County, the number of medical marijuana cardholders has jumped nearly 43 percent from January 2017 to January 2018. There are now seven dispensaries in the county with two more on the way.

Patients must meet at least one of 21 qualifying conditions for a medical marijuana card. Those include severe chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Health Department spokesman Paul Rhien said the state is taking a comprehensive approach to fighting opioid abuse and overdose deaths. He pointed to existing efforts to track and avoid overprescribing and to make overdose-reversing drugs like Naloxone more accessible.

Gallagher rejected the advisory panel’s previous recommendation to add opioid addiction as a qualifying condition last June.

Supporters of the legislation argue that medical marijuana can help with opioid withdrawal symptoms.

“There is more evidence from clinical and patient data that is continuing to mount. We know this is an effective harm reduction measure so we’re just trying to show the secretary that there are a lot of New Mexicans out here that believe in this,” said Jessica Gelay with the Drug Policy Alliance.