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The nation’s oldest hospice announced this week that it would be studying ways in which medical cannabis may be used to help dying patients, particularly those who have suffered from either intense pain or from opioid addiction.

The program

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The Connecticut Hospice Inc. in Branford announced on Monday that they would institute the federally-approved study, with the approval and input of the hospice’s 66 patients.

The hospice announced the study at a press conference that was also attended by Conn. Governor Dan Malloy and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.

Sen. Blumenthal spoke of the potential utility of the study in both easing patients’ suffering and driving down healthcare costs.

It’s about pain management at the end of life or during medical procedures… And that can transform the quality of life for people undergoing medical procedures no matter how serious or at what stage – and it can reduce the costs of health care.

Palliative care at the hospice

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Dr. Wen-Jen Hwu, chair of the Connecticut Hospice Professional Advisory Committee and Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, also attended the press conference and spoke of the important role that medical cannabis could play in palliative care going forward.

Connecticut Hospice has the vision trying to better fulfill their mission in palliative care and symptom control to improve the quality of life with limited time but it’s still very important. Everybody deserves to die with dignity.

The medical cannabis will be dispensed to patients in pill form.

The hospice’s announcement comes on the heels of the kickoff of another Connecticut research study – announced last week at the state’s St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center by Gov. Malloy – that seeks to determine the effectiveness of medical cannabis in treating pain stemming from rib fractures.

Gov. Malloy had previously signed into state law a measure allowing for the use of medical cannabis in research, legislation that took effect in October.

Connecticut opioid epidemic

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That Connecticut would embrace cannabis to combat the opioid crisis – a tactic that has been attracting increasing support across the country – underscores the extent to which the state is grappling with the issue.

The state’s opioid and heroin-related deaths have skyrocketed over the past four years:.Heroin deaths in 2012 numbered less than 100 and jumped to over 400 in 2015.

Overall, drug-overdose deaths numbered 723 deaths in Connecticut in 2015 and accounted for over double the total number registered in 2013. The state’s Chief Medical Examiner predicted in September that the number this year will total 888.

The scourge of addiction has been felt nationwide: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that almost 500,000 people died from drug overdoses from 2000 to 2014.

Gov. Malloy recently unveiled a wide-ranging plan called the Connecticut Opioid Response Initiative, which looks in part to provide more access to treatment for addicts, as well as more closely monitor the ways in which opioid prescriptions are distributed.

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