MURFREESBORO, January 7, 2018– I have been busy getting ready for the upcoming session. I hope you enjoy and become more informed with my updates. As we begin the 2018 session on January 9, here is my pre-session update.
The opioid crisis will be the biggest issue coming to the Health Subcommittee which I chair. I was able to have a couple of opioid related bills jacketed this past week and I have some others waiting to get jacketed depending on a few more discussions. I look forward to hearing the discussions and taking the lead on several aspects of this issue. I am expecting a multitude of opioid related bills to come through my committee and may organize a special meeting to listen to all the potential bills.
Aside from the opioid issue, last week, I was corresponding with legislators, an attorney, and physicians from other states to on how they are tackling a particular bipartisan medical issue. This issue has been going on for some time, and I have been working on a solution for a while. Of all things, on New Years Eve, I was speaking to a democrat physician legislator about how his state was addressing the issue. I’m working on drafting legislation on this issue, but can’t give specifics as it is too early and I may not be the one to carry the bill.
I, will, also, be carrying a bill with Dr. Briggs that should streamline a medical service to help decrease the morbidity and mortality of patients……more details to come later when we file the bill.
I will, also, be carrying at least one, if not more, bills related to education. When they get filed, I will be able to go into more detail, but there are at least three bills that I will either carry or be a prime co-sponsor. These issues directly impact Rutherford and Murfreesboro City Schools, and at least two of the bills were spurred on by problems related to testing that occurred in our county. These bills, also, help address some of the concerns brought forth by our school boards during the education round table that I hosted.
I have, also, agreed to carry a bill with Senator Ketron that will directly impact MTSU. When we file it, we will provide more information and details. It will bring some jobs and an educational opportunity to the area.
Over the last several months, college students across the state have been bringing awareness to an injustice on their campus. Working with these students, we hope to change the code to correct this injustice. Yesterday, I was able to sit down with the student leader on this issue and we have the rough draft of the legislation in hand. I will be meeting with legal services this week to have it drafted. Students are the largest constituency in many districts. Students across the state know that I stand up for them every chance I get, and I look forward to being the voice of students on this issue.
As most people are probably aware, medical marijuana or cannabis based treatments will be discussed this session. Senator Dickerson and Representative Faison held a task force this fall to discuss the issue and draft possible legislation. Most recently in the news, Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked the Obama era Cole Memorandum which, essentially, instructed federal prosecutors to not prosecute individuals in states who legalize forms of cannabis. Congress has some bills to decriminalize or reschedule cannabis, but it is uncertain if they will act. So, the impact of the revocation of the Cole memo on possible medical cannabis treatment legislation is yet to be determined.
Of note, however, is a federal lawsuit by a 12 year old girl by the name of Alexis Bortell against AG Sessions that is pending. The lawsuit would essentially either reschedule or de-schedule cannabis as her civil rights are being violated due to her medical treatment.
As chairman of the health subcommittee and to further educate myself and, hopefully, other legislators and the public, I was able to conduct an exclusive one hour interview and follow up questionnaire with Alexis and her father, Dean. I am awaiting permission from her legal team to release the questionnaire and more details from the interview. In addition, Mr. Bortell has offered to testify before our General Assembly depending on the timing and the lawsuit.
What I can impart is the history of Alexis and her treatment with her seizure disorder.
She lived in Texas, and began having seizures at the age of 7. By age 9, she had been on multiple anti-seizure medications and had suffered many side effects from those medications. Yet, she still had intractable seizures.
Faced with a lifetime of major medication side effects, intractable seizures, and a limited quality of life, her parents were given two potential medical options. Alexis could have a craniotomy which would involve surgery on her brain. The part of the brain that would have involved surgery would impact her personality, ability to think or reason, and her memory. Her other option was to move to another state and try cannabis based treatments. If cannabis based treatment failed, she could then have surgery, but if she tried surgery first and it failed, she would be forever changed. The family chose to move to Colorado and seek treatment there.
Alexis has been under a physician’s care and has participated in research projects while in Colorado. She is perhaps the most researched and tested patient in America. Of note, she currently takes two medications. One is an oil that contains a high CBD to THC ratio that is her maintenance medication which she takes twice a day. This oil is called Haleigh’s Hope. The other is a higher THC cannabis based oral spray called Cannatol RX to treat auras which signal an impending seizure. These auras present themselves to Alexis as a tingling sensation on her scalp or visual spots in her field of view. She self administers the THC when the symptoms present and has access to the THC spray on school grounds at her school in Colorado.
Since becoming stable on her medication on Day 33 of her treatment, she has been seizure free for nearly three years. She has had to use the oral THC spray less than 20 times to prevent seizures. She is growing like an otherwise healthy girl with minimal if any side effects. Aside from the limitations placed on her due to cannabis laws, she is able to lead a normal life. One that she would not be able to lead if she still lived in Texas or even Tennessee.
Of note, there are around 70,000 Tennesseans with a seizure disorder. Roughly, 5000 are minors like Alexis. That translates to over 700 patients and 50 children in each legislative district who could potentially see the same medical benefits as Alexis without the major side effects of anti-seizure medications.
In addition, I have heard candidates for legislative and gubernatorial office opine that big Pharma already has drugs to treat seizures or that we already have “medical marijuana” in a drug called Marinol. In the case of Alexis and countless others like her, those medications either don’t control the seizures or they have severe side effects. Marinol, the synthetic THC that is legal in Tennessee and every state, takes 30-45 minutes to take effect which isn’t fast enough to treat an impending seizure; whereas, the nasal and oral THC sprays works almost instantly.
Sativex and Epidiolex are potential cannabis based FDA approved medications coming down the pipeline, yet neither medication would provide the ratios of THC to CBD necessary to treat patients like Alexis. And neither would provide the flexibility to treat these patients as their metabolism changes during puberty.
Ultimately, the action that our Tennessee General Assembly takes may very well depend on the action taken at the federal level, the result of the lawsuit, or the kind of legislation put forth by Senator Dickerson and Representative Faison. Regardless, after speaking with the Bortell’s, it is clear that the current system is failing many patients. Telling Tennesseans who are in the same position as Alexis to just keep suffering from medication side effects, move to another state, or have a partial lobotomy isn’t the answer.
As always, it is an honor and a privilege to serve District 48 as your state representative. Please, follow my updates on BryanTerry4TN.com, on Facebook at Dr. Bryan Terry, or on Twitter at @BryanTerry4TN.
Rep. Bryan Terry, MD