A Connecticut legislative committee on Monday discussed a bill that would set the state up to provide certain patients with access to psychedelic-assisted treatment with substances like MDMA and psilocybin. Former top military officials, advocates and scientists testified in favor of the proposal.
The joint Public Health Committee took oral and written testimony on HB 5396, which would create a psychedelic treatment centers in the state, pending approval of the substances by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under its expanded access program for investigational new drugs.
The bill would not legalize the psychedelics; rather, it would set up regulatory infrastructure to enable Connecticut to play a leading role in providing access to this alternative treatment option as federal agencies continue to fund and facilitate clinical trials.
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Psychedelic therapy would be specifically provided and funded for military veterans, retired first responders, health care workers and any person from a “historically underserved community, and who has a serious or life-threatening mental or behavioral health disorder and without access to effective mental or behavioral health medication.”
“I firmly believe that we have a duty, responsibility and, more than ever, an urgency to help…all those suffering from trauma to heal and move forward as productive members of our society,” retired Marine Lt. Gen Martin Steele said at the hearing. “I also believe we have failed to do so for a very long time. Reversing these trends require bold but thoughtful and strategic action.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) signed a bill last year that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms. A workgroup has since been meeting to investigate the issue.
The new legislation would require the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to launch a “psychedelic-assisted therapy pilot program to provide qualified patients with the funding” to receive MDMA- or psilocybin-assisted therapy as part of FDA’s expanded access program, the text of the bill states.
The pilot program would cease “when MDMA and psilocybin have been approved to have a medical use by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), or any successor agency.” At that point, state statute on the substances would be aligned with the federal government’s.
In the interim, the bill would further establish a Qualified Patients for Approved Treatment Sites Fund (PAT Fund) to provide “grants to qualified applicants to provide MDMA-assisted or psilocybin assisted therapy to qualified patients under the pilot program.”
“Approved treatment sites shall collect and submit data to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, including, but not limited to, its protocols for the provision of MDMA-assisted and psilocybin-assisted treatment, training on the facilitation of such treatment, implementation of facility standards, strategies for patient protection and mitigation of drug diversion.”
The bill would further create a Connecticut Psychedelic Treatment Advisory Board under the department. Legislative leaders and the governor would be empowered to appoint members of the board.
“The guiding rule here is: Let’s get the right treatment for the right patient at the right time,” Stephen Xenakis, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, said at the hearing. “We need to have a broad array of services available—and now we have the capability to do that with the developments that have come in understanding the benefits that comes from MDMA and psilocybin and other such agents.”
The board would be tasked with making recommendation on the “design and development of the regulations and infrastructure necessary to safely allow for therapeutic access to psychedelic-assisted therapy upon the legalization of MDMA, psilocybin and any other psychedelic compounds.”
There would be seven key areas that the board would be responsible for advising the department on:
- Reviewing and considering the data from the psychedelic-assisted therapy pilot program…to inform the development of such regulations
- Advising the department on the necessary education, training, licensing and credentialing of therapists and facilitators, patient safety, harm reduction, the establishment of equity measures in both clinical and therapeutic settings, cost and insurance reimbursement considerations and standards of treatment facilities
- Advising the department on the use of group therapy and other therapy options to reduce cost and maximize public health benefits from psychedelic treatments
- Monitoring updated federal regulations and guidelines for referral and consideration by the state agencies of cognizance for implementation of such regulations and guidelines.
- Developing a long-term strategic plan to improve mental health care through the use of psychedelic treatment.
- Recommending equity measures for clinical subject recruitment and facilitator training recruitment
- Assisting with the development of public awareness and education campaigns.
Former state Rep. Jesse MacLachlan (R), who now works at the advocacy group Reason For Hope, testified in favor of the legislation. He emphasized the need to “build a bridge of information, of infrastructure, and of more real world application of what this treatment looks like outside of the clinical trial.”
He said Connecticut needs “to be ready for when the FDA does approve MDMA in 2023 and psilocybin in 2024 because, when that happens and these therapies begin to enter the mainstream, there will be a there will be a deluge of patient intake.”
“Yes, we need more federal testing. Yes, we need a lot more information before it becomes something that is widely used,” Public Health Committee Co-chairman Jonathan Steinberg (D) said at the hearing. “But even then, we’re talking about a very narrow context. When I say ‘widely,’ it’s still a very small group of individuals for whom this would be an appropriate therapy, but only by our willingness to push the bounds are we going to find these kinds of options for people.”
Thomas Burr of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Connecticut said in written testimony that, “for too long Connecticut has seemingly been stuck with the standard treatment methods around mental health conditions, with correspondingly lackluster results.”
“We feel that it is far past time to study different, perhaps even unorthodox treatments, that show great promise,” Burr said.
Lynnette Averill of Baylor College of Medicine said in written testimony that the bill would allow Connecticut to “jump start their infrastructure building as MDMA and psilocybin both have a breakthrough therapy indication from the FDA and are expected to obtain approval within the next 2 years.”
It also “allows for [Connecticut] residents to perhaps receive urgently needed care who would otherwise be excluded. For example, many clinical trials exclude ‘complex’ patients as the psychiatric and medical co-morbidities, the medications, the chaotic lifestyles, etc. can ‘muddy’ the data some,” she said. “However, these people are in desperate need of effective interventions and this program would support these individuals in receiving care (of course, when screened and determined to be safe and appropriate to engage in the treatment).”
Also in Connecticut, regulators announced in January that they would start accepting certain marijuana business license applications at the beginning of February.
The news follows a meeting of the state’s Social Equity Council (SEC), where members approved a technical assistance plan for the cannabis industry that will involve outreach and providing resources to people interested in participating in the market. That plan’s finalization was a necessary condition to trigger the start of the licensing process under the legalization law signed by Gov. Ned Lamont (D) last year.
SEC met for the first time in March, just weeks after Lamont signed a marijuana legalization bill into law.
Among other agenda items, the 15-person group approved a list of geographic areas disproportionately impacted by the drug war, which will be used to determine eligibility for social equity business licenses. Under the state’s new cannabis law, half of all licenses must go to equity applicants, who may also qualify for lower licensing fees, technical assistance, workforce training and funding to cover startup costs.
Over the summer, Lamont also announced the launch of a new website to provide residents with up-to-date information on the state’s new marijuana legalization law.
As it stands, adults 21 and older are already able to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis for personal use.
In the psychedelics space, reform is advancing in states across the country.
For example, the Washington State legislature last week sent a budget bill to the governor’s desk that includes a proposal to direct $200,000 in funding to support a new workgroup to study the possibility of legalizing psilocybin services in the state, including the idea of using current marijuana regulatory systems to track psychedelic mushrooms.
A bipartisan coalition of Georgia lawmakers recently filed a resolution that calls for the formation of a House study committee to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and make recommendations for reforms.
Last week, the Hawaii Senate approved a bill to set up a state working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms and develop a “long-term” plan to ensure that the psychedelic is accessible for medical use for adults 21 and older.
Also last week, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill this week to decriminalize low-level possession of psilocybin and promote research into the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic.
Rhode Island lawmakers introduced a pair of drug decriminalization bills this month—including one focused on psilocybin and buprenorphine that would authorize doctors to prescribe the psychedelic mushroom.
Also this month, a Missouri Republican lawmaker filed a bill that would legalize a wide range of psychedelics for therapeutic use at designated care facilities while further decriminalizing low-level possession in general.
Last month, Utah lawmakers sent a bill to the governor that would create a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.
An Oregon Senate committee also recently advanced a bill to ensure that equity is built into the state’s historic therapeutic psilocybin program that’s actively being implemented following voter approval in 2020.
A group of Maryland senators recently filed a bill that would create a state fund that could be used to provide free access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while also supporting research into their therapeutic potential.
A bill to decriminalize a wide array of psychedelics in Virginia was taken up by a House of Delegates panel in January, only to be pushed off until 2023. A separate Senate proposal to decriminalize psilocybin alone was later defeated in a key committee.
California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that his bill to legalize psychedelics possession stands a 50/50 chance of reaching the governor’s desk this year. It already cleared the full Senate and two Assembly committees during the first half of the two-year session.
Washington State lawmakers also introduced legislation in January that would legalize what the bill calls “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older.
New Hampshire lawmakers filed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and all drugs.
Legislation was also enacted by the Texas legislature last year requiring the state to study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center.
Colorado officials last week approved the language of two more psychedelics reform initiatives from the same campaign that already passed that procedural step for two separate measures it submitted late last year. A competing campaign filed a different psychedelics legalization last month.
Michigan activists filed a statewide ballot initiative last month that would legalize possessing, cultivating and sharing psychedelics and set up a system for their therapeutic and spiritual use.
A pair of Michigan senators also introduced a bill in September to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.
At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) last month, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.