Medical Marijuana Advocate Kills Herself
A 50-year-old woman committed suicide after 25 years of living with the pain of an autoimmune disease.
Robin Prosser, a Missoula woman who struggled for a quarter century to live with the pain of an immunosuppressive disorder, tried years ago to kill herself. Last week, she tried again. This time, she succeeded.
After her earlier attempt failed, Prosser wound up in even more trouble after investigating police found marijuana in her home. She used the marijuana to help cope with pain.
That marijuana charge was eventually dropped in an agreement with the city of Missoula, and Prosser had reason to rejoice in 2004 when Montanans passed a law allowing medical use of the drug. She was a high-profile campaigner for the Montana Medical Marijuana Act, and like others, she was dismayed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that drug agents could still arrest sick people using marijuana, even in states that legalized its use.
The ruling came to haunt Prosser in late March, when DEA agents seized less than a half ounce of marijuana sent to her by her registered caregiver in Flathead County. At the time, the DEA special agent in charge of the Rocky Mountain Field Division said federal agents were “protecting people from their own state laws” by seizing such shipments.
“I feel immensely let down,” Prosser would write a few months later, in a guest opinion for the Billings Gazette published July 28. “I have no safety, no protection, no help just to survive in a little less pain. I can’t even get a job due to my medical marijuana use – can’t pass a drug test.”
Federal prosecutors declined to charge Prosser, but fear spread through the system of marijuana distribution set up in the wake of the medical marijuana act. Friends said Prosser turned to other sources for marijuana, but found problems nearly everywhere she turned. “Most recently, she had found some people who said they could get her what she needed, but it didn’t go well,” said her friend Jane Byard.
Without the relief that marijuana delivered to her, Robin Prosser killed herself at home last week. She was 50.
Prosser suffered from an autoimmune disease that gave her allergic and dangerous reactions to most pharmaceutical painkillers. So she turned to marijuana. When that was no longer available she had no where else to turn. “She just said she couldn’t take it all anymore,” Byard said.
In her guest opinion, Prosser wrote that: “I’m 50 years old, low-income and sick. I spend most days in my apartment in bed, with no air conditioning, unable to go outside because I can’t tolerate the sun.” Beset by financial problems, troubled by depression, unable to find a reliable source of pain relief, she took her own life three months after the piece was published.
“Give me liberty or give me death,” she wrote in July. “Maybe the next campaign ought to be for assisted-suicide laws in our state. If they will not allow me to live in peace, and a little less pain, would they help me to die, humanely?”
Before being disabled by her disease, Prosser was a concert pianist and a systems analyst. After the disease hit her, she became a tireless advocate for legalized use of marijuana in medical situations.
Let’s be clear here: Despite the sensationalism of this slanted story (“Without the relief that marijuana delivered to her, Robin Prosser killed herself”) Prosser did not kill herself because the government wouldn’t let her have marijuana; she did so because her disease robbed her of her livelihood and had her in indescribable pain for the last quarter century. We know this because she was using marijuana to relieve the pain at the time of her first suicide attempt (the police found it in her home, remember) and she was still using the drug at late as July (she couldn’t pass a drug test, despite THC being undetectable in urine a month or less after use). So, please, spare me the hysterics.
That said, it’s absolutely unconscionable that it’s against the law for people like Prosser to seek what relief they can from marijuana.
It’s true, as Tbogg notes, that people can quietly get enough marijuana for personal use without much difficulty, whether for medicinal use or otherwise. Indeed, Prosser was rather clearly doing just that. But why should people have to flout the law in order to treat their pain?
Incidentally, as Susie Madrak explains, it’s not just illegal drugs:
What is this insanity? I mean, what purpose is served by this? And it’s not just pot. When I was a medical fraud investigator, insurance companies were forever sending us to investigate pain specialists and make sure they weren’t “overtreating.”
After an hour sitting in one of these waiting rooms, listening to people’s stories about all the hoops they and their doctor had to jump through in order to get pain treatment, I had to ask yourself: What is the gain here?
The policy makes the likes of Rush Limbaugh become a criminal. A man with permanent and excruciating back pain gets “addicted” to Oxycontin, a perfectly legal drug he’s prescribed by his doctor, and is faced with the choice of breaking the law or enduring the pain. Some choice.
Although I disagree with them in some particulars, Andrew Sullivan and John Cole [strong language alert] are right to note the absurdity of small government, state’s rights conservatives fighting so hard to overturn state medical marijuana laws. Whatever one’s views on the merits of our war on drugs, generally, one would think this particular battle would be one not worth fighting.
While I don’t buy it, I at least understand the “gateway drug” argument against allowing teenagers to smoke pot, let alone adults to sell it to them. Even though I think, for a variety of reasons, that we should fight against drug abuse via education and treatment rather than criminalization, I support the goal of a sober, functional citizenry. But, aside from the probability that some number of people will find a way to abuse medical marijuana laws to get the drug for recreational use, it’s hard to make a case for denying 50-year-old chemotherapy patients a means of alleviating pain.