I’m gonna keep this short and sweet. For some background you can read this if you need it. Today the Georgia Medical Cannabis Commission met to decide on the final recommendations for the state and the medical cannabis program. The vote was 11-5 against recommending in-state cultivation, which would keep medicine more affordable for patients and not force them to break federal law obtaining meds.
This is the breakdown of the vote. Please note which side most of the doctors are on versus lackeys for Governor Deal, who plans to block expansion.
Rep. Allen Peake
Dr. Mandy Reece (pharmacist)
Dr. Cynthia Wetmore (oncologist and head of research for Emory and Children’s Healthcare)
Dr. Yong Park (pediatric neurologist)
Dr. Mark Murphy (gastroenterologist) No:
Dr. Alice House (head of state medical board)
Brian Rickman (district attorney who was recent appointed judge by Gov Deal)
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald (commissioner of dept of public health)
Senator Butch Miller (floor leader for Gov Deal)
Rep. Katie Dempsey (Rome)
Ryan Teague (exec counsel to Gov Deal)
Chief Stacey Cotton (police)
Sheriff Gary Gulledge
Rick Allen (Director of GA Drugs and Narcotics)
Vernon Keenan (head of GBI)
Gary Black via proxy vote (commissioner of agriculture).
I’d also like to thank Pastor Mike Griffin, head of the Georgia Baptist Convention who spoke at the hearing and said that although he has prayed with families who need this healing, it should not be passed. Basically his fear of recreational use (which is not on the table) is more important than the welfare of sick people. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yep. Legislators and law enforcement are apparently more suited to making medical decisions than doctors and patients. Read it and weep, Georgia. No seriously, you should weep. This state has serious issues.
They used the federal government as an excuse. Georgia. Does Georgia have a track record of bowing to the federal government? Apparently, only when it suits them.
There will still be legislation introduced to try and expand the program to include more conditions and cultivation, but overcoming dirty Georgia politics to make it happen is not going to be easy.
As I previously posted, Gov. Deal stripped HB1 of the growing option, leaving it as immunity only. There will be a rally at the Capitol tomorrow to demonstrate the support for in-state growing. Please attend to show your support.
There are currently 17 medical conditions included in the bill. However, the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association and District Attorneys’ Association do not support the expansion to other diagnoses beyond epilepsy. Please contact your local sheriff and DA.
There is a very misleading headline floating around that the governor is supporting a bill for medical cannabis. It is not true. Yesterday Governor Nathan Deal dropped the bomb that he will veto a medical cannabis bill with in-state growing. He will, however, sign off on HB1 immediately if it is stripped to immunity only. What this means is that he wants sick people to travel to legal states, obtain cannabis oil that falls within the parameters described in HB1, and break federal law to bring it home. This is what he considers helping the people. Frankly, I’m impressed his hand isn’t too cramped up to sign any bills with all the patting he’s been doing on his own back for talking to GW Pharma about Epidiolex trials, the pharmaceutical version of CBD from the cannabis plant. (Isn’t it funny how pharmaceutical companies can find a medicinal use for a plant that is classified by the government as having none?)
Here’s the thing. Last year Rep. Allen Peake presented HB 885, also known as Haleigh’s Hope for Haleigh Cox. It started out with a plan for growing but got stripped in committee. I won’t rehash the whole ordeal again, but by the end it was also just an immunity bill with no way for people to obtain cannabis in Georgia. It had the votes, but Senator Renee Unterman killed it by attaching another bill that she knew good and well the House wouldn’t hear. Several families were down at the Capitol as the clock counted down to midnight on the last day. They went to Deal’s office to beg him to intervene, but he refused to come out and meet with them. He has said to reporters since then that he has met with the families. Most of the families would love to know who those families were and when because we’ve been trying to figure it out. He could have encouraged an immunity bill through last year but he chose to hide in his office.
He has known all along that there was a plan and a need for growing in the state. By agreeing to immunity only, he is encouraging families to break federal law by transporting it back to Georgia. You can be charged if caught driving through an illegal state or by TSA when flying. Not to mention the expense and challenge of people with serious medical conditions needing to leave the state to obtain it.
Throughout the 2014 election he was asked where he stood. He was vague and always pointed to what a great job he was doing talking to GW Pharma about bringing Epidiolex trials to Georgia. He was quiet as Rep. Peake led a committee during the months between sessions to create the legislation for HB1. He waited until this past Friday to finally be straight about the fact that he has no interest in genuinely helping the people in Georgia that could benefit. For him to not veto HB1, it must be stripped. He claims to want to appoint a committee to look into growing in 2016. Well, what have you been doing for the past year, Gov. Deal? And if he didn’t think Peake’s committee was doing a suitable job, why didn’t he step in? Because that wasn’t the issue. Deal is playing a different game. Meanwhile, people are sick and dying and many aren’t finding relief from traditional pharmaceuticals.
Sen. Curt Thompson has also announced his plans for SB7. It is a more comprehensive plan that is well-received by those who want to see a medical marijuana program in Georgia, but it isn’t expected to have a shot given that it allows so much more than Georgia legislators are comfortable with and is being introduced by a Democrat in a good ole boy Republican legislature.
In the months since Georgia’s 2014 legislative session ended without passing proposed medical cannabis legislation (due to political games, not lack of support), the community of medical refugees in Colorado has grown.
Notice anything funny about the south? Sing with me! One of these things is not like the others… Admittedly, the laws in the bordering states are of varying efficacy. South Carolina, for example, is only an immunity law that protects you if you are caught with high CBD strains, but does nothing to help patients obtain it. Florida, on the other hand, is allowing for the growing and selling of high CBD strains next year. If Amendment 2 passes in November, Florida will be able to enact an even more comprehensive program that will benefit more people and conditions.
So now meet some of the Georgia families that are waiting to return to their homes, families, doctors, therapists and friends.
The Cox family
The Georgia bill HB 885 was also named Haleigh’s Hope in honor of this little girl who turns five this month. Shortly before this year’s legislative session ended, Janea and Haleigh packed up and moved to Colorado because Haleigh, who has Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, was suffering life-threatening seizures that caused her to stop breathing. Her dad, Brian, was unable to go with them because of his job and now they have to live apart.
As I scrolled through the Hope for Haleigh page I was struck again by the change in her. Janea takes and posts a lot of pictures and I could see the improvement, but in looking for before pictures, I was struck by how difficult it was to find photos of her looking at the camera or smiling. Now we see quite a few of those. Sitting in a swing by herself wasn’t possible a few months ago. She also said her first word in Colorado — Mama. Haleigh is not seizure free and still has some rough days, but she has also had some seizure free days. That simply didn’t happen before she started on Haleigh’s Hope provided by the Hope Foundation. Janea has said that she felt like she was finally meeting her child these last few months. Haleigh has even been able to wean off one of her seizure medications. But living apart from Dad is emotionally taxing and they hope that 2015 will bring legislation that will allow them to be a family again.
The Oliver family
Tripp had his first seizure on April 9, 2009 and was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome. He has tried more than a dozen medications since then and in April of this year, he and his mom moved to Colorado where he started THCa through Realm of Caring. It was hard to leave Dad and his team of therapists who have spent years working with Tripp in speech, occupational, feeding and physical therapy, but since then he has had two separate three-week streaks in which he had no convulsive seizures. Mom describes him as brighter and happier with improving speech capabilities. You can follow his journey at Tripp’s Trip.
The Klepinger family
The Klepingers left for Colorado late last year. They still own their Georgia home with the hopes they can return to it and their extended family and support network. Hunter is still doing well on Charlotte’s Web. I shared Hunter’s successes previously in this post. Since then, Aaron and Dawn have a welcomed a third child, lovingly nicknamed their Colorado Tumbleweed.
Aaron invites any legislators with doubts to come to Colorado and meet the kids. “Seeing is believing,” he says.
“My Caden has had thirteen completely seizure-free days! Understand that was never a possibility before! He no longer seizes during the daytime at all, only at night,” Kim Clark posted in May of this year. “There was no hope before this, nothing. Caden’s life was seizing somewhere between ten up to into the hundreds times a day. There was no life. Coupled with the side effects from medications, my boy was miserable. Now we are so blessed that he is 10 years old and we are trying to learn how HE CAN LIVE!”
But Caden’s healing has come at a price. The Clarks are also a split family. Kim is in Colorado with the kids and Dad Chris has had to stay behind in Georgia for work. They share the same reality as the other families living hundreds of miles apart. Dad can come visit them, but they can’t go home to see him because they can’t legally travel with the oil. Recently, Kim and Chris traded places for a short period so she could make a trip home.
The Sumlin family
Sheryl and her daughter Trinity arrived in Colorado earlier this summer.
It’s early to gauge the response of Trinity’s seizures to Haleigh’s Hope since mom opted to titrate up to the usual starting dose, an incoming tooth is causing seizures and Trinity is requiring supplemental oxygen as she adjusts to the altitude. However, Mom is seeing beacons of hope in small things like wiggling her toes, calmness, awareness, making sounds and sleeping better.
But leaving her support network has been extremely tough. “It is harder than I thought it would be,” Sheryl says. “Although it’s beautiful here, it is not home. My daughter’s school and that whole network has been a huge part of our lives for the last 5-6 years. Also, friends who knew us since forever. I think it’s unfair that we have to move so far to have an opportunity to try this medicine.”
Sheryl is out there without nursing help or a car. Prior to flying out she donated her vehicle to another family in need. A fundraiser was set up by a third party to help her with expenses, but she never received any of the donations that were made on her behalf. She is grateful to the Journey of Hope foundation, a non-profit started by Rep. Allen Peake, for coming through and helping her financially with the move.
Corey worked tirelessly during the 2014 legislative session to persuade Georgia legislators how badly we need access to cannabis. She was devastated when it didn’t pass, and by May, her daughter’s seizures were getting out of control. She had a tough decision to make.
In June, with help from Journey of Hope, they packed up the car and drove across the country leaving behind Corey’s job, her husband and Victoria’s siblings.
Since starting on Haleigh’s Hope, Corey tells me Victoria has had an 80 percent reduction in seizures. From several a day to this:
The incredible eye contact and improved communication Victoria is showing now helps alleviate the pain of leaving their home, but Corey still worries.
“It’s great, but at what cost,” she told me. “How will this affect my children, who I left behind, in the long run? Will they resent Victoria because I had to leave them behind? How is not having a mom around affecting them?”
She also feels guilty about the families that simply don’t have the means or circumstances to move across the country. “The absolute worst part about having this medicine is seeing kids back home that need it. It’s hard to celebrate the success when kids are going into the hospital because of seizures.”
This last week did not get off to a great start. I’ve mentioned we’ve had some issues with an increasing number of seizures breaking through in spite of the modified Atkins diet. We finally bit the bullet and raised his vigabatrin dose Tuesday night when not only were we seeing him have 2-3 a day of his typical seizures, but then he also appeared to be having some sort of activity with no clear stop and start — he just wasn’t right. His eyes would look unfocused and he was physically weak. Sometimes after a rough seizure he has trouble moving around and his arms can’t support him when he crawls, but that’s not always the case and it usually goes away in 30 minutes. But he was like this for three days. I had hoped the diet would be successful enough to allow him to wean meds, but it appears he needs the combination of a therapeutic dose of vigabatrin with the diet. He had gained five pounds since the last time we adjusted his meds, so clearly vigabatrin is just far too essential to his well being. We have now gone four days without seeing any seizure activity since the upped dose and he’s back to his normal active self — a great relief as the idea of possibly having to relocate to Colorado had started rear it’s ugly head again. We are trying to hold on with traditional medicine until the option of medical cannabis is available closer to home.
After all that, it seemed like an appropriate way to end the week by taking part in the fundraiser for Journey of Hope, a charity started by Rep. Allen Peake (who sponsored HB 885 this past session in an unsuccessful attempt to legalize CBD oil here in Georgia) to help families, who have exhausted traditional medical approaches to treating their children’s seizure disorders, relocate to Colorado to get the medicine they need. It all started several weeks back when Kim Clark challenged Corey Lowe to the cold water challenge, a method of raising money for charity via the Internet that has gone viral recently. Kim (a mom from Georgia treating her son Caden in Colorado) challenged her on behalf of Realm of Caring, the nonprofit that has become famous for providing the strain Charlotte’s Web to sick children at a reasonable cost. Corey (a mom from Georgia who will soon take her daughter Victoria to Colorado) chose to challenge more people on behalf of Journey of Hope which started the chain of events that led to me floundering my way into an inflatable pool ring in an Olympic sized pool Saturday morning in the Hose the House for Hope event.
Several representatives, senators and Georgia law enforcement officers accepted the challenge to raise money and participate, jumping into the pool to swim out to the moms from families that were involved in fighting for HB 885. You could also pay $50 to douse a participant of your choice in ice cold water. Oh, and some of the dads dressed up…but I’ll let the photos do the talking on that.
I am happy to say that this much money has been raised so far:
If you are interested in making a donation, please check out the web site for more information — Journey of Hope.
Most of the photos are mine, but a few are borrowed from Facebook…please let me know if you want credit for a photo. I didn’t pay attention when I snagged them 🙂
Glad I couldn’t make it down there today. I wouldn’t have wanted to watch this celebration in person. I’m so sorry for those parents that did have to see it live. A live stream was more than enough for me. I cannot begin to express the countless hours, time and money (parking, travel, childcare) that these parents put into this. Representative Allen Peake did everything he could and for that we are thankful.
Short version — most of which I stole from someone on Facebook — because I’m tired, ticked off and feeling a migraine coming on:
The Senate refused to pass HB 885 unless an autism insurance bill was attached because the House refuses to vote on the autism bill alone. Senate passed HB885 with the autism bill attached, then sent to the House who refused to vote on it with the attached autism bill.
Then late tonight, with HB 885 stalled in the House, the House sent SB291 (already passed in the Senate and unrelated to HB 885) to the Senate for a vote with the HB 885 language included. Senate refused to vote on SB 291 because it did not have the desired autism language.
And with that, the state of Georgia made it clear that it does not care about kids whether they have epilepsy or autism. But they do care about their end of the night paper party!
For those of you that have wondered, yes there is a Mixed Up Daddy that walks the path of life with Mixed Up Mommy. Probably more astonishing to some (including my family and close friends), I even can write! Although let me start by saying I don’t write nearly as well as my wife.
Also, before I get into the true reason of this post, let me just say how proud of my wife I am, not only for writing this blog and educating so many on TSC and our journey through it, but also for being an incredible wife and best friend to me, and of course the best mom ever to Connor (no offense to the other moms out there!). I also want to thank the little man himself, Connor. He is such an inspiration to me, and I only wish I could have a little bit of the strength and courage he shows every day.
Now on to the reason for my first foray into blogging — a certain state representative here in Georgia. As I am sure you are all aware from reading Becky’s blog, there has been a push in 2014 to legalize medical cannabis oil in Georgia — oil that could potentially not only help with the quality of life for so many like Connor, but could potentially be lifesaving. It goes without saying how wonderful it is to have State Representative Allen Peake of District 141 who was willing to champion this cause for so many on our side. He did this knowing it was going to be a tough fight and one that could potentially end his political career. It is refreshing having politicians who, even though they may lose their political career, are still willing to take on the hard issues because it is the right thing to do! I applaud you sir!!! I only wish we had more like you at every level of government.
But that isn’t the representative I came to write about. I also didn’t come to write about my State Senator who, although he is in the state senate to represent myself and the rest of his constituents, never returns emails, voicemails, Twitter messages, stands you up for appointments, and doesn’t even show up for his own scheduled town hall meeting (and let me add this is not just my experience, but dozens of his constituents’ experiences). Nor am I here to write about how wrong it is that our government (both at the federal and state levels) take off every other year from tackling the hard issues because “it is an election year”. Again, there are some great politicians out there that don’t do this, but I am sick of hearing this. You are elected to represent us, each year and every year. I am also not here to tackle the comment made on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives during the debate on HB885 by a freshman politician that when he took office he was told by other politicians that freshmen congressmen and congresswomen should be seen and not heard. Since when do those who elected a new member to represent them suddenly not have a voice? To me this is nothing more than bullying of politicians by other politicians. Thankfully the above referenced representative did not listen to those politicians, but instead gave a great speech and represented those from his district. On a side note, don’t get me started on the all too common practice in politics of “the more you donate, the more you matter and get access.” Maybe that is how I can get access to my state senator?
Okay, so maybe I got to a few items, just not in the detail I could have.
No, I am here to talk about, and give my opinion — no one else’s — on Georgia State Representative Sharon Cooper of District 43. I did not know who Sharon Cooper was before this process as I do not live in her district and did not get involved in state politics. But after this process, oh wow! Now I readily admit I am biased when it comes to the topic of cannabis oil, but my issue with Sharon Cooper isn’t so much on this topic, but the way she has conducted herself during this process, and I can only assume, how she conducts herself in general down at the Gold Dome (the Capital in Georgia is referred to as the Gold Dome). I also will say that she voted for this bill twice — once in committee and once in the full House vote. But looks can be deceiving. In my humble opinion she has actually been trying to kill the bill behind the scenes. I will get to that in a moment. Some though will say, “Why would she vote for the bill if she didn’t want it passed in reality?” Well that is where I question how she does things. Based on parents who were in the House during the vote, she was one of the last to vote. Again it is just my opinion, but my guess is that she was seeing how the vote was going, and in “old school politician” mode, chose to vote for it as it isn’t easy to be a “no” vote when the vote is 171-4, but it is easy to hide as a “no” vote if the vote were say 104-71. (I know old school dirty politics, I was born and raised in Chicago, where that was invented). No, an “old school politician” would vote for it (knowing that is what the public would see), and then behind the “closed doors” of the capitol try to kill the bill (luckily the doors of the capitol of Georgia are not as “closed” as she thinks). My issue here is that she has a responsibility to her constituents to show them how she truly votes on the issues, not resort to the all too common politics of today of “I will do whatever I need to do to get reelected”. I have no problem with my elected officials voting contrary to my opinion on issues, as there is no way we would see eye to eye on every issue. We should not have to ask that they vote accurately though so we can actually make an informed decision during elections. We deserve that much!
Now you may ask, “How was she trying to kill the bill?” Behind the scenes at the Gold Dome she was passing out a flyer on the “Truths” (my wording) of HB885, yet there were several facts that were wrong on it. I am not sure if she just got the facts wrong and didn’t do the research, or if she did this on purpose, but either way that is unconscionable, and although it is common in politics, has no place. Let’s also not forget that her position on some items is ever changing. Take Epidiolex (a pharmaceutical cannabis product that is currently going through FDA trials and shows some great promise) for example. At her committee meeting there was testimony by a woman — a family values advocate, not a doctor –who said Epidiolex could be here in Georgia in 30 days, yet there was also testimony by a respected neurologist (Connor’s doctor, and many of the other children that could benefit from cannabis oil) who said he was in the process of getting DEA approval to run an Epidiolex trail, but it was a long and arduous process. So who does she back during the meeting? The non-doctor testimony — never mind the fact that it was a lie. She would correct that in later speeches and comments though. She could have also found out more about how it is such a long process by watching the show Weed 2 that recently aired on CNN and was done by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Of course this is the same congresswoman who called into question Dr. Gupta’s credibility during her committee meeting. Never mind Dr. Gupta is a well respected neurosurgeon, assistant professor, and journalist. She also cut off more than one parent during their testimony, including one that she would later reference in her speech on the House floor regarding medical cannabis, although twisting and misrepresenting his story to fit her ways.
Representative Cooper’s big idea on the subject is that we have an alternative FDA medicine — Epidiolex — at our disposal. Unfortunately that medicine is not readily available and we have no idea when it will be (most likely years based on other FDA timelines). Currently it is only in trials, very limited trials (we are talking 125 people, and based on trials that are trying to get up and running, at most maybe 2000 people, but probably less, in the future). She also has said that Children’s Hospital of Atlanta has told her they are open to do studies on Epidiolex, yet when contacted, CHOA said they have no interest in doing a study on Epidiolex at this time. I have no idea why the parents are getting different information than Representative Cooper, but we certainly aren’t being told what she says she’s hearing (maybe “old school politics” again). What do these parents and adults do in the meantime? Also, let me point out that most patients have exhausted all available FDA-approved meds that are out there for their conditions. Let me also mention that although I am sure there are some incredible people working for the FDA, let’s not forget that the top levels at the FDA are political appointees, and that big pharma is an incredibly powerful lobby and big contributors to political campaigns. Let’s also not forget the side effects that come with the FDA-approved meds that are taken every day — possible vision damage, kidney failure and liver damage to name just a few. Or that there have been FDA-approved drugs that have then been recalled.
I am digressing though. There are some incredible parents we have met along this journey that are a lot better at giving examples of her lies, and if they cannot get them published in the Atlanta paper, I am sure my wife will give you a forum to get your message out. Since the Atlanta paper allowed an editorial by Sharon Cooper though, I certainly hope they give “us” a chance to get the truth out there. Again, this is about her shady politics, though. This is what the general public has grown sick of in America. We expect our politicians to act in a better manner. I only wish I lived in her district to run against her. In Georgia though, we are sort of set-up where the common man can’t run. We only pay our politicians less than $18,000 a year (no, I am in no way advocating for higher pay), so unfortunately unless you are a business owner, or independently wealthy, it is almost impossible to run as you can’t raise a family on that pay. As great as my company is, and they have been incredible throughout our whole journey with TSC, I am pretty sure they are not going to let me take the first three months of the year off. And how I would love to run against our state senator so that everyone in our district could be heard and represented. I deserve to be heard and represented; we all deserve to be heard and represented!
Janea and Haleigh left for Colorado yesterday. Haleigh is the little girl for whom HB885 is named “Haleigh’s Hope Act.” The awesome Rep. Allen Peake met her and immediately began his crash course into the world of medical cannabis and CBD oil, pushing this Georgia bill with everything in him. But Haleigh’s declining health means she can’t wait. Her father must stay behind in Georgia because of his job.
HB885 has passed the senate committee but with major changes. Cultivation is out. Basically, it provides legal protection to a person caught with CBD oil. It does not help us obtain it. This was always a hurdle even with cultivation (there were different issues surrounding that). You’d have to get it in a legal state and get here without being caught. Frankly, places like Realm of Caring are not going to sell it to you knowing you plan to cross state lines against federal law because that puts them in danger of being shut down by the DEA. It’s important to understand that this bill, even if passed on the senate floor, signed by the governor and made law, would not allow everyone to run out and get it for their kids. It does prepare our state, however, for a change at the federal level. If the feds reclassify it with the DEA — as they need to — we are ready to go. And hopefully, passing this in such a conservative state will add more pressure to the federal government to get off their butts and help people.
Another twist is that a separate bill is now attached to HB885. The chair of the senate committee, Renee Unterman, has been trying to pass a bill for five years (Ava’s Law) mandating that insurance companies cover treatment for autism (Georgia is one of a minority of states that don’t require autism to be covered). A compromise bill that increases benefits up to age 6 is now part of a package with HB885 called the Kid Care Act. The autism bill has also been tacked onto HB943, which would prevent insurance discrimination over certain types of cancer treatment. The reason is that the autism bill alone would have to go through subcommittee in the House, and thus far, they haven’t been willing to hear it. By tacking it onto bills that have already passed the House, it bypasses the subcommittee when it goes back to the House for approval for the change.
Now the bill must go through the Senate Rules Committee and then go to the Senate floor for a vote. Then it goes back to the House for approval. Last day of session is March 20. Nothing like going down to the wire! Once again, if you haven’t e-mailed your Georgia state senator yet to support HB885, you can find out who yours is at openstates.org.
Also of note are two op-eds in the AJC today. Eli Hogan shares his experience living with Crohn’s Disease and it is a great read. It is followed by a counter-point from Rep. Sharon Cooper. As you read it, please keep in mind that she voted to pass HB885 twice. First out of committee, then on the floor. I would also urge you to read some of the excellent comments from parents below the essays.
If you missed Sanjay Gupta’s follow up to last year’s special Weed, you can find it here. The original is here. Anyone who cannot invest the 45 minutes it takes to watch at least one of these has no right to question the people who are fighting for these changes.
I guess blogging really can be therapeutic. After I posted Friday about our trip to Birmingham regarding the ketogenic diet, I just didn’t feel right. I had a tightness in my chest that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. Anxiety? I couldn’t stop obsessing over our appointment with the neurologist and how she just wasn’t on the same page at all. I guess it’s true what people say about going with your gut. I looked back over my correspondence with CHOA. I had never cancelled our March appointment just in case. Connor is already responding so well to the tweaks in his diet that aren’t even the full-blown MAD or ketogenic diet. I went upstairs to find Chris and said, “you know…we still have the CHOA appointment, and the nutritionist said she could help me start MAD at home…” And within seconds it was confirmed that neither of us were comfortable moving forward in Alabama with that neurologist. So I emailed the nutritionist that we would be sticking with CHOA and I am waiting to here from her.
Yesterday I attended the first committee hearing on HB 885. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t what I got. It started late as the morning session had gone long. Some members came in late to the hearing as they were at other meetings that overlapped. Paige Figi — Charlotte’s mom featured in the Sanjay Gupta special — flew in with Joel Stanley from Realm of Caring to testify about what they are doing in Colorado and the success they are having. They are in the process of getting FDA-approval and they are doing studies, but it is a time consuming process and children with severe seizure disorders don’t have time to wait. They explained that they are a heavily regulated industry. They also said they now have a waiting list of over 2,000 people nationally and internationally, hoping they will be allowed access.
Dr. Mike Green then testified and shared that the Medical Association of Georgia supports the bill. Dr. Smith testified about his experiences having a child with a seizure disorder (Doose syndrome) and the awful side effects that can come with seizure medications. He and Dr. Green also shared about the Epidiolex drug trials that are going on. Epidiolex is manufactured by GWPharma using CBD as the active ingredient. Dr. Smith tried to get his child into one of the studies, but they were full. Dr. Flamini also testified. He is the neurologist to many of the kids whose parents are fighting for this. He is actually the mysterious neurologist I frequently refer to in this blog. He is very supportive of CBD studies and is applying for Investigational New Drug status (IND) so that he can work with Epidiolex in his office. It is a very lengthy, difficult process to work with a schedule 1 substance, but even if he is approved he is very limited in how many people can use it. Though he was testifying in support of HB885, he is actually excluded by the bill because he has a private practice. It would only be available via research hospitals.
I also want to point out that Epidiolex is in trial phase and not yet FDA approved. It has been granted orphan status, which speeds things up, but we’re still talking years. May I remind you that vigabatrin was not FDA -approved in the U.S. until 30 years after the first trials. Ahem.
Several parents shared their heartbreaking stories. Janea Cox shared about Haleigh, pleading with the committee not to let her daughter die. Aaron Klepinger shared about the amazing success their son Hunter is having in Colorado and how badly the family wants to come home. One dose stopped him from clenching his fists so tightly that his hands would bleed. Jonathan Jiles shared about his son Kason’s battle with Ohtahara syndrome. Sgt. Chris Clark, a 26-year veteran of the police department shared about his family and how his wife and child are in Colorado for treatment while he remains behind to provide income and insurance. He also shared that his son had a brain surgery that caused a stroke. I wished they could have had more time, but were all rushed because of time constraints and the impending bad weather.
Then came the oppositional speakers with lengthy presentations. Sue Rusche from National Families in Action opened with a YouTube video she took of an advertisement for Indispensary in Colorado. Dispensaries are where you can buy marijuana products. It took me a while to ascertain her point, but it seemed to be, hey, look at all these recreational marijuana products. These are available in the same place as where some of these Colorado parents are obtaining their child’s medication. It was a long, slow video with lots of silent footage of recreational products. Personally, I was shocked it was allowed to play out in full considering the rush for time and that testifying parents had to talk quickly. It was also quickly pointed out by Rep. Kaiser that it was irrelevant. Georgia is not Colorado. This is not what we are doing here. That is simply a place in Colorado where medicine may be picked up, but we wouldn’t have that here. We are interested in a non-psychoactive oil that can’t get you high only ONLY; recreational is not on the table. We want an oil form, not buds. Rusche was clearly not supportive of products such as Charlotte’s Web which has saved many lives in Colorado. She pushed the Epidiolex trials repeatedly and insisted it was not hard to get, that any doctor can apply for IND status and have it in 30 days. This was after Dr. Flamini already testified that it was a difficult process. The doctors behind her were also shaking their head as she spoke. But no matter what was asked, she insisted that Epidiolex, courtesy of GW pharmaceuticals was the only suitable option. She was so insistent that one of the reps eventually questioned whether her organization received money from GW. A representative then asked her if Epidiolex is so easy to get, why aren’t these parents doing that? “I wish they would!” was her response. And at this time, I ask you to recall above where I mentioned that one of the testifying doctors tried to get it for his kid and couldn’t. At that point, Rep. Peake asked her, ‘Would you tell Aaron Klepinger to stop giving Hunter Charlotte’s Web and get in line for Epidiolex?” She said no.
Some doctors from CHOA spoke. While they have reservations, they are very interested in possibilities of CBD oil. Then Rick Allen of the Georgia Drug and Narcotics Agency spoke of the challenges of getting it here due to it’s classification as a schedule 1 substance — no doubt a major hurdle. He said that where we stand, something like Charlotte’s Web cannot be brought into the state legally. University of Mississippi is the only place permitted by law to supply as part of research projects.
Then came, what was for me, some of the most disturbing testimony. Karen Tinker gave lengthy testimony as a mother of a son with epilepsy. I was confused at first. Why was she at the end rather than with the other parents? Why have I never seen her or heard her name before? As it turned out, she wasn’t testifying for the bill. She was testifying against it. She started out with a similar story. Many meds failed her son and he recently received the VNS implant, which she acknowledged comes with it’s own dangers, and wasn’t guaranteed to solve the problem. She talked about her methods of evaluating treatment options for her son, and said that she had chosen not to use Onfi because of potential side effects (a med that I felt we had to try for Connor). But she stated that CBD oil did not have the research to back it. That we needed wait to several years to see what studies would say. She likened the passing of the bill to opening Pandora’s Box and said she worried that all the positive headlines about marijuana would lead her teenage son to try recreational pot. After the fact, I saw her Linked In profile. It turns out she owns a company that provides mobile drug testing of employees to companies. She doesn’t seem to differentiate between medicinal and recreational.
It was heartbreaking that a parent of a child with seizures would do this to other parents. Especially after Janea Cox had cried and shared that Haleigh has stopped breathing 56 times in the last month.
I respect the right of every parent to choose the course of action for their child. Not every parent is comfortable with medical cannabis at this point and I respect some would not opt to use it. Just as Tinker chose not to use Onfi, we did choose to use it. I do not respect someone that tells others they shouldn’t do something that could save their child’s life. I am so lucky that Connor’s situation is not as dire as the situation of the testifying parents. It’s cruel to try and stand in the way of something that could save their lives.
After that, a couple doctors testified that had been recruited by Rusche. I’ll be honest. I didn’t hear much of what they had to say because I was still in shock over Tinker’s testimony. At that point the hearing had hit three hours and it was an hour and a half past when it was supposed to end. The remainder of speakers were asked to return to the next hearing.
I’m not sharing all my thoughts at this time on the hearing in the blog. If interested, I can talk more one-on-one. I will provide more detail at a later date. All I can say is that yesterday was an eye-opening experience.
You were sort of close. Atlanta froze over creating a hell of sorts yesterday when Rep. Allen Peake dropped the bill HB 885 Haleigh’s Hope, named for Haleigh Cox, diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, who is still in the hospital. It now needs to go through committee in the house and if it passes, then get passed to the senate, and at that point will go to Governor Deal to be signed. Some basic details of the current version are:
The bill will be tightly restricted and very regulated, managed by a doctor, administered orally in oil or capsule form. Seizure disorders have been added to an existing law that includes cancer and glaucoma. (A previous 1980 law had allowed for controlled use for cancer and glaucoma, but due to stipulations on how it could be obtained, never actually benefitted anyone because they couldn’t get it.)
I’m very excited to see progress being made that could potentially benefit Connor and so many others. I’m anxious to find out the nitty gritty on exactly how and when we will be able to obtain it if passed.
Of course, this bill is met with controversy, and I don’t even mean the anti-any legalization whatsoever groups. People who want to treat medical conditions not expressly named in this bill are expressing their dismay. Another point of contention is the limited allowance of THC-where exactly we stand on that is unclear. The CBD oils are very high in CBD with very low THC and have great medicinal value. Since THC is the psychoactive component, this aspect gives great comfort to people who would otherwise oppose it. However, THC also has medicinal benefits. Some of the people being treated with CBD oil are supplementing with THC when the CBD oil alone is not enough. I don’t want to get too technical because this has been a learn-as I-go-along type of experience, and I do not want to unintentionally spread misinformation.
But this is a start. I’m hoping we are headed toward access to all components that could help my child. If you are dealing with a medical issue that would benefit from cannabis, I highly recommend you contact your legislators with your story. I hope we are on a path to this being an option for everyone that needs it. Georgia is an exceptionally conservative state that just let adults make the choice to buy alcohol on Sundays and cannabis has been demonized incorrectly for decades. Miracles don’t happen overnight, even if they should. Getting this far required the persistence of some incredible parents that knocked on doors at the capitol and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Atlanta’s Snowmageddon (Snowpocalypse? Can’t decide) that hit yesterday and had kids and teachers stuck at school and on buses, people sleeping in Home Depots, shelters, gas stations, strangers’ homes and in their cars on highways, while other people had their 20 minute commutes turn to nine hours only to ditch their cars and trek home on foot dominated the news. However, there was a front-page story about the bill in the Atlanta Journal & Constitution that continued to page A9 featuring none other than the little man himself.