Editorials

Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in Walla Walla Union Bulletin and The Yakima Herald-Republic. Editorial content from other publications is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

Federal laws aimed at regulating medical treatments for the long-term safety of patients are critically important. This means testing, testing and testing medications to ensure they will do as they claim and they won’t cause further harm. This is an expensive and time-consuming process.

Yet, the slow — seemingly glacial — pace at which the federal government approves these medications for public use is frustrating for many and heartbreaking for others. It’s devastating when access to potentially lifesaving drugs are denied to terminal patients because they have not yet been deemed safe enough for general use.

Withholding access of last-ditch medication to a dying person defies logic as well as compassion. Yet, few are surprised this occurs in a country with a rigid, beaurocratic agency overseeing pharmaceuticals and an overly litigious society.

But legislation now being considered in Congress might make experimental drugs available to those with terminal illnesses. The proposal, know as Right to Try, seems rooted in good sense.

The Senate unanimously approved a version of the proposal, and it also has support from President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Yet, as reported by Bloomberg News, apparently final passage of the concept isn’t a slam dunk.

Critics of the Right to Try law include drugmakers, researchers and ethicists. They contend focusing on the urgent needs of one person, no matter how compelling, can lead to greater harm and slow development of medicines for thousands of others.

This is probably true. If the treatment fails, which given the dire circumstances of the patients is likely, there will certainly be second-guessing and public concerns — perhaps even legal action.

But this is exactly why a federal law is needed. Steps must be taken to help protect drugmakers, doctors and others in the process from legal action.

Those who agree to treatment would accept the risk things could go terribly wrong. Matt Bellina was a 35-year-old when he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2012 while serving as a Navy officer flying jets. He is now lobbying hard for Congress to make it easier for terminally ill patients to get access to experimental drugs.

“I need to know before I die that if my children find themselves in this unenviable position, that this nation that I proudly served will respect their liberties and their right to make their own decisions about their medical treatments,” Bellina said at a House hearing.

Let’s hope lawmakers were listening.

Those who are hopeless deserve some hope. And, perhaps, some lives might also be prolonged.

The Right to Try legislation makes good sense. It deserves approval.

Marijuana road safety a glaring unknown

Almost five years have passed since Washington state voters approved Initiative 502, which legalized the use, sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana, and more than three years have gone by since customers could walk into stores and buy a product. We have learned a lot about supply, demand and tax revenues in cities and counties that have allowed marijuana operations, but we still know almost nothing about a critical public safety aspect that affects the entire state. That is: Who is driving while stoned, and what danger do they pose to other motorists?

We don’t know for a number of reasons. Start with marijuana affecting users differently from how alcohol does. Determining driving under the influence of alcohol can be measured quickly and efficiently with a breath test, and law enforcement can use the well-established and accepted blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent. Initiative 502 called for a parallel DUI threshold of 5 nanogram of TCH, marijuana’s active ingredient, per milliliter of blood in a user’s system. But there is no parallel pot test that can easily measure legal impairment.

The best law enforcement can do now is measure the presence of THC, but that doesn’t necessarily mean impairment; THC remains in the body tissues long after the high has worn off. And a driver could be high without noticeable signs of impairment that can be flagged in a standard field sobriety test.

Statistics don’t offer much further guidance. We do know that the number of fatal crashes in this state involving drivers with marijuana in their system totaled 79 last year, a figure that is more than double that of 2012, when I-502 passed. The numbers show a huge spike from 2013 to 2014, when the new law went into effect. But the Yakima County figure is basically unchanged at an average of five a year. And most police agencies, in issuing impaired driving citations, don’t differentiate whether the driver was using alcohol, marijuana or other drugs.

For the past three years, a marijuana breathalyzer has been promised in the near future but has yet to materialize. In the meantime, much of the impairment assessment falls on officers to evaluate a driver’s motor skills and attention levels, and on this state’s 200 or so recognition experts who can identify a substance and calculate an intoxication level going back several hours.

Much of this dilemma results from a law approved by ballot initiative, not through the vetting of the legislative process. The result is a law that came into effect before government entities were ready for it. The state is getting the handle on regulating sales, distribution and the grow, but there is still a long way to go on this key public safety issue.

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