Medical marijuana available in La. next week, but advocates worry over accessibility

Updated: Aug. 3, 2019 at 8:58 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - After months of testing, medical marijuana is expected to be available to Louisiana patients on Tuesday (Aug. 6), according to the state’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

The treatment arrives with much anticipation for hopeful patients and their families, who say they’ve been waiting years for it. But, advocates say the fight isn’t over yet.

For days, Katelyn Castleberry’s hasn’t been able to get the tune of her ringtone out of her head.

“Nonstop, patients calling,” Castleberry said. “People ready to register with physicians, people trying to find out how much the medication is going to cost.”

Castleberry is a patient advocate for medical marijuana and said there’s a lot of work to be done as the day they’ve been waiting for approaches.

“Right now, the price of the medicine really leaves the program out of reach for many people,” she said.

But, Castleberry is also a mom to two boys who struggle with autism and the side effects of medications prescribed to treat its symptoms and she’s hoping medical marijuana will be their answer.

“I have an appointment Monday at 12 to go pick up my boys’ medicine,” Castleberry said. “That’s when our life begins.”

She took a moment to relish the news with another advocate Friday, before returning to the ring.

“Many people won’t be able to medicate, simple because they can’t afford $150 a bottle or $200 a bottle. Or needing multiple bottles in a month,” Castleberry explained.

She said the medical marijuana is sold wholesale to pharmacies at a set price. Pharmacies then decide individually how much to charge a patient. In Louisiana, Castleberry said the prices are up to eight times higher, compared to other states with a program.

“I’m still working very hard with individuals who can change their prices before the product comes out,” Castleberry said.

But the cost of physician care is a concern, too, according to Dr. Victor Chou, one of the 120 physicians in the state approved to recommend medical marijuana to their patients.

“One factor I’m a little worried about is the long-term costs. Insurance largely does not cover the costs,” Chou said.

Chou said he estimates a patient will spend between $500 and $900 a year on consultations at the start of the program, but hopes costs will go down over time.

For Castleberry, it’s more indication that her and other advocates’ fight for the medicine is far from over.

“It doesn’t start with the law or end with them seeing a physician. It started long ago, with the work of so many people in the years past on the law. And, it will go on needing to be worked on, as long as there’s a medical marijuana program in Louisiana," she explained.

As of now, the treatment will only be available in liquid form and and to treat select medical conditions, including cancer, HIV, AIDS, cachexia or wasting syndrome, seizure disorders, epilepsy, spasticity, Crohn’s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, severe muscle spasms, intractable pain, post traumatic disorder, and some symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder.

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