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U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar spoke at a treatment facility in Kettering for newborns suffering from opioid dependence on Friday. Flanking Azar is, left, foster mother Cyndi Swafford, and the center's founder and director Jill Kingston. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

HHS Secretary: “There really is no such thing as medical marijuana”

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U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, visiting the Dayton area to learn about responses to the opioid crisis, said he sees no role for medical marijuana as a pain relief alternative to prescription opioids.

“I would want to emphasize first that there really is no such thing as medical marijuana,” Azar said. “We have treatments that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration that are safe, that are proven to be safe and effective for pain, safe and effective for other conditions.”

“There is no FDA approved use of marijuana, a botanical plant,” he added.

In December, Cresco Labs began construction in Yellow Springs on the first medical marijuana cultivation facility in Ohio. Legislators legalized medical marijuana in 2016 and approved Cresco Labs for one of 12 large-scale cultivation licenses in the state last year.

Center, Secretary Azar speaks to the press

Azar’s comment came in response to a question from the Yellow Springs News about the role that medical marijuana might play as a pain relief alternative to prescription opioids, especially after a recent study from Colorado, published in the American Journal of Public Health, that marijuana legalization has reduced opioid deaths there by 6.5 percent in two years.

Azar, a former president of the U.S. arm of the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly & Co. who was confirmed in January to succeed Tom Price in the position, said the focus of the administration is instead on “a public-private partnership” to research new pain relief alternatives.

“Over $750 million just in 2019 alone is going to be dedicated to the National Institutes of Health working in a public-private partnership to try develop the next generations of pain therapies that are not opioids, as well as to develop the best evidence around alternative ways of treating pain that do not involve opioids,” Azar said. “So that’s where our focus is.”

Earlier, Azar cited statistics that opioid-related deaths in Ohio rose by 30 percent last year.

Contractors at work Friday at the future site of Cresco Labs, a medical marijuana cultivation and processing facility in Yellow Springs

Among the qualifying medical conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana in Ohio are “pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable,” according to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program. While 29 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, marijuana is listed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule I drug with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Azar was visiting the Kettering facility Brigid’s Path, a medical facility that treats newborns who were exposed to opioids in the womb, helps mothers to recover from their addiction and supports families in their transition. The babies sometimes have to be held for 24 hours per day, according to one volunteer, and not a single baby who come through the facility has had to enter foster care, Azar was there to learn about the facility, which is currently privately-funded. He discussed with Congressman Mike Turner (R-Dayton), options for federal funding of the facility, and others like it, through Medicaid. Turner recently introduced legislation to that would clear the way for states to use Medicaid to fund such facilities.

Azar emphasized that the opioid crisis should be tackled with a combination of prevention and treatment.

Congressman Mike Turner (OH-10)

Volunteers at Brigid’s Path

Jill Kingston, founder and director of Brigid’s Path, addresses the press.

Cindy Swafford, a foster mother who has taken babies recovering from opioid exposure, speaks at the press conference.

Dayton-area reporters prepare for the short press conference.

Brigid’s Path is located at 3601 S. Dixie Drive in Kettering

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4 Responses to “HHS Secretary: “There really is no such thing as medical marijuana””

  1. Lynn Adams says:

    Mr. Azar, I presume you are not a medical doctor because your ignorance of this issue is appalling. I would suggest that you educate yourself on this topic before making any further decisions. Doctors and scientists in Europe, Australia, India, Israel etc. have been studying why & how this works in humans to alleviate the suffering of chronic pain, can lessen the effects of PTSD, and can lessen the severity and reduce the number of occurrences of epileptic seizures. And it does this without the disastrous side effects of opioids and Nsaids. As a matter of fact there are many ancient natural health remedies, now being scientifically studied, that have been proven to work as well as, or better than, modern medicines.
    L. Adams

  2. Lor Kem says:

    Mr. Azar, you have no proof, whatsoever for the comments you have made. But many have proof that Medical Cannabis does work! The opioids of Big Pharma are extremely addictive and extremely harmful.
    No one has ever died from Cannabis use, but millions have over dosed from opioid use.
    Cannabis was made illegal because Big Pharma knew that is was medically effective and was afraid that it would put them out of the trillion dollar scheme.
    I hope that you will educate yourself before you comment on subjects in which you are ignorant. That is how people learn.

    Thank you for your time.

  3. Very well stated & laid out Rick. links to videos are great, esp for those folks tettering out of the gov misinformation brainwash into a realization that this really helps people.

    The fact that he can even say a statement “no such thing as medical marijuana” is evidence of how effective the proganda campaign to demonize & taboo cannabis has been. 10,000 years + used as medicine. Last 70 an illegal harmful plant. How quickly our collective conscience can forget.

    BTW – the largest collection of Cannabis artifacts is in fact, here in OH –

  4. Rick Rosio says:

    Not surprising that a former ex of E.I.Lilly would take the position that there is no such thing as ” medical cannabis”.
    His industry has fought against the use of cannabis therapy as the least toxic method for treating pain and suffering.
    Listen to the dying speak about cannabis therapy and helping them in hospice
    As the Veteran suffering from PTSD and war related injuries that require them to use toxic levels of opiates and other pharma products that cause serious harm.
    The Secretary of HHS is simply UNQUALIFIED to have a discussion about whole plant botanical therapy that cannabis offers over the toxic opiates and pain meds phama has created out of synthetics.
    Opiate deaths in Ohio
    Cannabis deaths in the US
    The HHS Secretary takes the old racist position on cannabis that created the for profit prison industry in America
    Cannabis is the least toxic method for treating pain and suffering .

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