Karen Basha Egozi: Epilepsy group applauds new medical marijuana bill

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Imagine a seizure striking without warning while attending your son or daughter’s soccer game, or watching helplessly as your child suffers from a debilitating epilepsy episode. This is the fear that more than 375,000 Floridians and their families face every day following an epilepsy diagnosis: when will the next seizure strike?

The mission of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida (EFOF) is, to the best of our ability, eliminating as much uncertainty and ambiguity for our members as possible. Epilepsy doesn’t always have a cure; as a result, those affected by the disease are desperate for any treatments that reduce symptoms, allowing them to enjoy a fuller life.

In 2014, our organization worked to educate sufferers and their families across the state about the legislative attention placed on medical marijuana as a potential medication option for those affected by seizures. As the largest epilepsy organization in Florida with members directly affected by the decisions of the Legislature on this issue, we applaud state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, for his recent proposal to expand access to medical marijuana to those most deserving.

Senator Brandes’ bill, SB 528, filed last week, would allow for a patient with a specified medical condition, including epilepsy, to use medical-grade marijuana as ordered by his or her physician once other medical treatment has been exhausted.

Last year, lawmakers, led by state Reps. Matt Gaetz and Katie Edwards, championed and ultimately passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, also known as Charlotte’s Web, which made legal a strain of non-euphoric marijuana for Florida residents who suffer from epilepsy and other seizure disorders. However, the rules that the Department of Health drafted to implement the law were challenged in court and ultimately thrown out, leaving families desperate for a new treatment option without an alternative.

Today, 12 percent of Americans with epilepsy live in Florida, and indicators are that this number might increase, not only as baby boomers age, but also because Florida is home to the second-largest veteran population in the nation. With troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s estimated that 20 percent experienced traumatic brain injury, the leading cause of epilepsy.

It clearly is in our state’s interest to address this condition as it’s expected that the number of residents affected by the disease will continue to rise.

We humbly ask the Legislature to continue its good work in expanding treatment options to ensure that epilepsy victims have access to new medications with medical supervision, allowing them to live better, and more productive, everyday lives.

Karen Basha Egozi, CEO of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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