DSHS Considers Additional Qualifying Conditions for Access to Compassionate Use Program

Proposed New Rule Relating to Designating Incurable Neurodegenerative Diseases

Austin – The Department of State Health Services (DSHS) recently held a public hearing to accept public comments on the proposed new rules to implement House Bill 3703, relating to designating incurable neurodegenerative diseases.

About a dozen people, including patients and caregivers, attended this hearing with half of them offering testimony about the proposed rule.

Background

Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature made only minor changes to the Texas Compassionate Use Program (T.CUP), expanding access from those with intractable epilepsy to those with the following conditions:

  • All seizure and epilepsy disorders
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Spasticity
  • Autism
  • ALS
  • Terminal Cancer
  • Incurable Neurodegenerative Disease

As directed by the recently passed legislation, DSHS is seeking to define “incurable neurodegenerative disease.” Their proposed definition: a condition, injury, or illness that occurs when nerve cells in the brain or peripheral nervous system lose function over time and for which there is no known cure.

This definition would add more than 100 conditions, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, to the list of those that qualify a patient for access to the Compassionate Use Program. Find the full proposed list here.

Many Texas families could benefit from access to the Compassionate Use Program and it’s great to see DSHS moving quickly to define what conditions will qualify as an “incurable neurodegenerative disease.” While we’d prefer that doctors be completely in charge of who has access to this medicine, the department is working within the parameters created by lawmakers.

One of the biggest problems that remains with this medical cannabis program is the legislature’s unreasonable restriction on dosing. Even if approved, the patients on this list only have access to low-THC (0.5%) cannabis, a product that is marginally more effective than the hemp products that can be purchased over the counter (0.3% THC).

This point is especially important considering the therapeutic nature of THC. In 2016, “Salk Institute scientists have found preliminary evidence that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana can promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.” More info here.

Until the legislature removes their arbitrary cap on THC, the relevance of the Compassionate Use Program remains in question. 

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