Earlier this year, The Daily Item and CNHI newspapers across Pennsylvania highlighted the challenges of rural health care in certain locations in the Commonwealth.
The topics range from transport to specialist access to connectivity for growing telemedicine appointments. Add medical marijuana access to this list.
According to the Health Department told The Daily Item, there are more than 50,000 registered medical marijuana people living in one of 29 rural counties without a single medical marijuana pharmacy. Montour and Union Counties are among those 29 counties. Fortunately, there are pharmacies in Selinsgrove, Shamokin and Bloomsburg which are a short drive away.
The Department of Health’s website lists 127 pharmacies operating in the state. The data provided by DOH officials show that in the North-Central region, which spans the entire Valley, along with eight other counties that span a vast stretch of land that extends north along Route 15 to the New York border stretches west to Bradford and then back south of Center County, there are 27,206 medical marijuana patients. Seven out of 12 counties have no pharmacies.
Nationwide, there are 367,925 patients who actively purchase medical marijuana for one of 23 approved diseases. These conditions range from epilepsy and multiple sclerosis to cancer and glaucoma.
None of the seven pharmacy-free counties have more than 2,000 patients, and some counties, particularly north of Lycoming, Clinton, and the Center counties, have generally few residents.
Sullivan County has 6,046 residents and Potter County has 16,332, both of which are among the five lowest in the state.
But if you look at a map of exact pharmacies in the Commonwealth, you notice how empty the northern part of the north-central region is.
There are two pharmacies in Williamsport, but nothing between there and the New York border along Route 15. There are no pharmacies on the other side of Northern Tier. A patient in Mansfield drives at least 45 minutes to Williamsport for recommended medication for a potentially fatal condition. It is approximately 15 minutes further for Wellsboro residents. A patient in Coudersport is at least an hour from Bradford and the nearest pharmacy.
We know there are thousands more medical marijuana patients in the corners of Pennsylvania than in the Northern Tier, so more availability is a priority there.
But not having access – and we would argue that driving for at least 45 minutes for access to medical marijuana is very close to no access – is something state health officials need to address sooner rather than later.
NOTE: The opinions expressed in The Daily Item editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom managers, and editorial community members. Today’s was written by Editor-in-Chief Bill Bowman.