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Bipartisan Legislation Seeks to Give Terminally Ill Patients Access to Schedule I Drugs

A bipartisan pact of Senators took the first step in introducing legislation to provide a new treatment path for terminally ill patients. 

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation this week to add clarification to current law that will allow terminal patients the right to access Schedule I drugs under certain conditions. Specifically, the legislation aims to give access to psilocybin and MDMA, and could be the first step toward a wider application of substances currently considered to have no medical value. 

The legislation introduced seeks to add clarification to the Right to Try Act, a law that went into effect in 2018 to give other options to patients who had exhausted available treatments. Currently, the law applied to treatment methods that are awaiting final FDA approval, and the proposed legislation would add language to include Schedule I drugs that had completed a Phase 1 clinical trial. 

In short, the new law would allow doctors and patients to explore treatment options that, until now, were seen as having no medical use. 

As part of the press release announcing the legislation, Sen. Booker specifically mentioned psilocybin and MDMA as potential treatments for a variety of mental health conditions. Booker said that Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials of the drugs have shown them to be “safe and effective” and quoted the FDAs own findings of the “breakthrough potential” for these substances.  

“This legislation will put the patient first and help ensure access to life-changing and life-saving drugs,” Booker said. 

Booker’s announcement of the legislation on Twitter included a recent piece by Scientific American that highlighted the journey of advanced cancer patient Erinn Baldeschwiler. As part of the release announcing the legislation, Baldeschwiler said she was appreciative to have legislative language to secure her access to Schedule I drugs as part of a “promising” treatment plan. 

“I am eager to try psilocybin therapy to help gain comfort and peace with what is unfolding for me, and be able to be more present for my children even in this most difficult time,” she said. 

The potential of this legislation to open up treatment options for doctors and patients was also expressed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who will be part of the pair introducing companion legislation in the House of Representatives. Blumenauer represents the first state to legalize psychedelic treatment options, and he said the proposed legislation could have a resounding effect on all of the players who seek to look into the potential of substances that fall under the Schedule I designation. 

“Patients and doctors deserve to discuss treatments—including psilocybin—that researchers find provide immediate and sustained relief from pain, anxiety, and depression for people battling terminal illness,” Blumenauer said. “Federal restrictions have obstructed access to end-of-life care for too long, this legislation will change that and ensure that all patients have the Right to Try.”

Booker’s announcement also referenced another key constituency of patients who he feels could benefit from these substances: America’s veterans. The proposed legislation was supported by retired Lt. Gen. Martin R. Steele, who is head of the Veteran Mental Health Leadership Coalition in his life after the Marines. According to Steele, this clarification could help veterans who are struggling to deal with terminal conditions. 

“This bill will open access to MDMA– and psilocybin-assisted therapy for Veterans who are at serious risk of suicide and have exhausted all other options,” he said. 

Steele also signed onto a letter from the VMHLC that accompanied the initial release of the legislation, and echoed his sentiment that he’s seeking to advocate for those who feel they’ve exhausted all other options. This segment of patients, the letter reads, are “precisely those that our coalition represents.” 

It continues: “Specifically, the thousands of Veterans who nearly lost all hope after struggling through (sometimes double digit) ineffective medications and therapies – which often left them worse off than where they started – before eventually leaving the country they served in a last-ditch effort to receive psychedelic-assisted therapy in Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and other countries where they could legally access this life-saving treatment.” 

Another important aspect of this movement is the bipartisan approach to providing these treatment options to patients in need. A pair of amendments supporting psychedelic treatment options for veterans were recently included in the House’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act, and although the efforts were not coordinated, they came from opposite sides of the political spectrum. 

In this instance, the inclusion of Sen. Paul as a co-sponsor took a step further in cementing natural treatment options as one of the few policy areas receiving wide-ranging support from across the political spectrum. For Sen. Paul, adding psilocybin and MDMA to Right to Try laws is a key step in keeping the government from interfering with how doctors choose to treat their patients. 

“Unfortunately, the federal bureaucracy continues to block patients seeking to use Schedule I drugs under Right to Try,” he said. “I’m proud to lead this bipartisan legislation with Sen. Booker that will get government out of the way and give doctors more resources to help patients.”

Author

  • Patrick Radigan

    Patrick Radigan is a recovering sports journalist who had his eyes opened to the world of drug policy reform while covering a court case of a cannabis consultant found not guilty on trumped up possession charges. Since that case, he's covered legalization issues in multiple states, monitored tribal movements in the legal cannabis space and is now turning his attention to the wide spectrum of legalization and policy matters surrounding natural medicine alternatives. Patrick has written stories for newsprint, shot video for television news and got his start covering biofuels and soil science for a climate magazine. Originally from South Dakota, Pat earned a pair of journalism degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and now resides in Colorado.