ALBANY -- Chronic pain sufferers will now be able to get medical marijuana prescribed to them in New York.
After announcing in December it planned to add chronic pain to its list of eligible conditions, the state Health Department on Thursday said medical marijuana for the ailment will be available starting Wednesday.
The Health Department also said physician assistants can now register to prescribe medical marijuana -- the latest group of health-care professionals allowed to prescribe the drug.
The moves, which the state outlined last year, are aimed at bolstering the state's medical marijuana program, which started last year and has had difficulty registered patients and prescribers.
“Improving patient access to medical marijuana continues to be one of our top priorities, as it has been since the launch of the program,” Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement. “These key enhancements further that goal."
New York's medical marijuana program started in 2016, but it has faced criticism for being too restrictive.
The state has sought to address the concerns by allowing more conditions to be treated with medical marijuana and allowing nurse practitioners -- and now physician assistants -- to prescribe it.
The state has nearly 900 health-care professionals who have registered to prescribe medical marijuana and and 14,437 patients have been certified to buy the drug at one of 20 dispensaries in New York.
Practitioners have to take an online course to prescribe medical marijuana; patients have to be certified by their doctors to get the drug.
The state defines chronic pain as "any severe debilitating pain that the practitioner determines degrades health and functional capability" and when other options have been unsuccessful.
It also defines chronic pain as "having lasted three months or more beyond onset, or the practitioner reasonably anticipates such pain to last three months or more beyond onset."
Chronic pain is now added to the list of 10 conditions that qualify for medical marijuana usage: cancer, HIV infection or AIDS; Lou Gehrig's disease; Parkinson’s disease; multiple sclerosis; spinal damage; epilepsy; inflammatory bowel disease; neuropathies; and Huntington’s disease.
As for physician assistants, they can register with the Health Department to certify patients, as long as their supervising physician is also registered to certify patients.
For more information about New York’s Medical Marijuana program, visit: https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/medical_marijuana/.