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Vincent Damien Arnone, medical marijuana advocate was impaired by pain

Jan. 25, 1974 — June 4, 2018

Vincent P. Arnone will never forget the day his son's life changed.

In 1992, Vincent Damien Arnone was a "big, strong, handsome, strapping" athlete, playing basketball on the Town of Tonawanda Boys Club and football and baseball at Hutch Tech. One day his father noticed that he was slouching. "I reminded him to stand up straight, and he said, 'It hurts to do that, Dad.'"

A neurologist diagnosed the teenager with a rare form of spina bifida called Arnold-Chiari Syndrome. Unless he had surgery, the family was told, he would probably be unable to walk by age 40.

In 1993, Mr. Arnone had several surgeries on his spine and brain that left him in chronic pain, with limited use of his right arm and left leg, his father wrote in a 2014 Buffalo News My View. "Not the kind of pain that Advil takes away, but screaming, disabling pain that makes it difficult to stand every single day.

"Life as we knew it was over."

Prescribed opiates eased his pain, but when they became ineffective or inaccessible, he sought relief from marijuana and heroin, his father said.

Mr. Arnone died June 4 at age 44 in his home of a heroin overdose.

"When he died, I don't think he weighed 100 pounds," said Mr. Arnone's father. "He just deteriorated after the surgeries."

Mr. Arnone was an advocate for legalization of medical marijuana in New York. In the summer of 2013, he moved to Las Vegas "to have access to medical pain relief," said his father.

Mr. Arnone's mother, Laura Olson, died in early 2014, and he moved into her family home in Riverside.

Medical marijuana was legalized in New York in mid-2014 and became available in January 2016, but it didn't help Mr. Arnone, his father said.

"It gave him some relief, but his pain was so extreme," said Vincent P. Arnone. "It's not powerful enough for somebody with the level of pain he had, and it's cost-prohibitive. It's not covered by insurance."

Mr. Arnone discussed medical marijuana online with others across the country, and had many conversations about it with his sister, Jaime Arnone-Sanmarco, she said. "He would say, 'Kids are dying.' He was saying that for a long time," she said.

At the end of his life, his pain was relentless, his family said.

"His pain was so severe that a couple of weeks ago he was crawling from one place to another in his apartment," said his father, his voice breaking. "He was crying to me that the doctors would not even prescribe him a week's worth of pain medication, and he was going out of his mind with pain."

Arnone-Sanmarco was two years younger than her brother, but they often joked that she had become his big sister. She cared for him for years, driving him to family events, bringing him food and even bathing him, she said.

Friends also stepped in, letting his family know when they hadn't heard from Mr. Arnone for a few days, taking him shopping or shoveling his sidewalk. "He had amazing friends, who are all reaching out," Arnone-Sanmarco said.

"His circle of friends goes back to his childhood and includes the guys he played ball with," Vincent P. Arnone said. After Mr. Arnone's death, a friend left a rose and a candle on his front porch, his father said.

In addition to his local friends, his sister said, people he knew from the online medical marijuana discussion groups "are reaching out to me and sharing stories, saying how great he was, that he always had something to share."

"He was really trying, the last couple of years," said his father, who has found journals in which his son had written "Stay strong."

"He was struggling to do things for himself, he was trying so hard, and he wanted to make a change," said his sister.

Due to his pain and isolation, Mr. Arnone also suffered from extreme anxiety, Arnone-Sanmarco said. "Being alone and depressed was so challenging," she said.

"It was hard to get medical help for him," she said. "He used illicit marijuana because he could not afford the medical marijuana, and when you test positive for illicit marijuana, you are prohibited from what else could be available to you. He was trying to get help, but it was a big wall put up in front of him."

"I never believed that he was ever going to get better," said his father. "I waited for the phone call that would tell me he was in the hospital, or in jail, or dead. I had no hope of his recovery, I just hoped that he would have some sense of normalcy in his life."

Born in Buffalo, Mr. Arnone was the fifth generation of his family to share that name. A 1992 graduate of Hutchinson Technical High School, he briefly attended SUNY Buffalo State College. In the late 1990s, he operated the Hertel Hempery, which sold items made from hemp, and later worked at the Elmwood Hemporium, his family said.

Besides his father and his sister, he is survived by his grandparents, Dr. Vincent C. and Bette Arnone; his stepmother, Beatrice Arnone, half-sister Jillian Arnone, half-brother Surjit Arnone, and four nieces and nephews. Funeral prayers will be said starting at 6:45 p.m. Monday, June 11, in the James E. Grace Funeral Home, 335 Ontario St.

The family has asked that he be remembered with donations to Save the Michaels of the World, Inc., P.O. Box 55, Buffalo, NY 14207.

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