After battling Lyme disease and other ailments for nearly 20 years, Bridgitte Pascale tried “almost everything” to alleviate her pain without relying on opioids.
Though doctors prescribed Percocet and muscle relaxers, she turned to acupuncture and later medical marijuana, which she says are the “only things that help” with the chronic aches and pains she manages daily.
Such alternative treatments are emerging as safe havens for some patients concerned about the dangers of painkillers. But while many swear by the benefit, health insurance generally doesn’t cover them.
“It can cost a lot of money,” admits Pascale, a 56-year-old registered nurse who lives in Clearwater. “But it’s the only thing that helps the pain.”
As lawmakers grapple with how to address the opioid addiction epidemic that kills thousands annually in Florida alone, some advocates are calling for greater acceptance of non-traditional pain management approaches.
It’s an uphill fight.
The road would be longest for medical marijuana.
It won voter approval for use in Florida, but for specific conditions, not pain alone. The federal government still considers it an illegal drug, which all but prevents its study as medicine.
“As long as that’s the case, physicians aren’t allowed to prescribe it and there’s no way health insurance can touch it,” said Alex Adams, president of the Compassionate Care Clinics of Pinellas, which employs a state-registered physician to write marijuana recommendations in St. Petersburg.
In Florida, physicians can only “recommend” it, and qualifying patients take that referral to a dispensary to purchase cannabis products. The 13 companies licensed in the state to grow, manufacture and sell medical marijuana dictate the price.
Adams said he sees patients who spend anywhere from $100 to $400