The Columbian / Associated Press

Bill: Protect transplant patients who use marijuana

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon lawmakers may tighten restrictions on the state’s organ transplant centers to ensure they don’t discriminate against patients based on marijuana use.

House Bill 2687, sponsored by Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, would stop medical providers from recommending that transplant candidates be removed from the organ waiting list managed by the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing because they tested positive for pot, the Statesman Journal reported.

In Oregon, more than 850 transplant candidates are on the wait list for organs, according to the organ network. About 340 transplants were performed in Oregon last year.

For some, symptoms before surgery are severe enough they turn to medical marijuana for relief.

Responding to Nosse’s bill, the state’s major transplant centers disputed turning patients away based on marijuana use.

“No transplant candidates are turned away from the OHSU Transplant Program because they use marijuana,” said Tamara Hargens-Bradley, a spokeswoman for the Portland research hospital.

However, “a patient who meets the criteria for substance abuse disorder, and does not follow through with recommendations set forth by our selection committee, could be turned down for a transplant,” she said.

Piseth Pich, a community relations official with Portland-based Legacy Health, said, “Patients being considered for transplant are assessed using a number of different factors that may include positive drug tests for marijuana as we do with other factors such as alcohol or chronic opioid use within the context of a patient’s overall risk-benefit ratio for transplant.”

“That being said, it’s difficult to identify a specific number of patients who may be considered less for a transplant based on one factor alone,” Pich said.

Patients in need of organ donations can wait years to receive one that’s a good match for them, if they receive one at all. Once a transplant is completed, there’s a chance the recipient’s body could reject the foreign organ.

Representatives from OHSU and Legacy Health have voiced concerns with Nosse’s bill, pointing to the high demand for organs up against the lower number of transplants, as well as issues related to smoking pot.

Dr. William Bennett, medical director at Legacy Transplant Services, said in a letter to lawmakers the bill “attempts to legislate unsafe standards of care for transplant medicine.”

“The consequences of marijuana in kidney transplant recipients are well-known and the adverse effects of marijuana have been well characterized in recent publications,” Bennett said in the letter.

Smoking marijuana is as risky as smoking tobacco for cardiovascular health, he wrote. An OHSU handbook for post-transplant care also states that using pot “can cause lung and brain fungal infections.”

In the letter, Bennett contended Legacy does not remove patients from a transplant waiting list just because they are a registered medical marijuana card holder, but patients are required to avoid using marijuana because of the risks.

“Transplant centers should reserve the right to consider positive drug tests, as we do with other factors such as alcohol or chronic opioid use, within the context of the patient’s overall risk-benefit ratio for transplant,” he wrote.