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Illinois Works to Prevent Opioid Dependency With Cannabis

Illinois Fights Opioid Addiction With Cannabis
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Illinois Works to Prevent Opioid Dependency With Cannabis

In a pioneering move when it comes to dealing with the nation’s growing opioid crisis, Illinois has launched a plan to promote short term access to medical marijuana in lieu of opiate regiments to treat pain.

On Feb. 1, Illinois kicked off its Opioid Alternative Pilot Program and is now taking its first wave of registrations from patients all over the Land of Lincoln.

Feb. 1 also marked the day that the Illinois Department of Health started to issue the state’s first provisional access cards to people who applied online for the separate Medical Cannabis Patient Program. Due to regulations, patients can’t take part in both the state’s medical cannabis program and the OAPP.

The OAPP is designed to provide people with additional options to manage their pain outside the opiate-based pharmaceuticals widely used today. It attempts to fill the medical gap for pain management in a way we have yet to see in other states. For example, the state is asking: Do you need a medical marijuana recommendation for a year if your broken arm will heal in 8 weeks? While it could be convenient to have access to cannabis for a full year, the actual doctor’s recommendation timeline may be a bit overkill in that scenario.

So, the OAPP will provide medical cannabis to any individual who otherwise could receive a prescription for opioids by a licensed physician in Illinois — but not a long-term medical cannabis recommendation. The doctor and patient have to have a bonafide physician-patient relationship, the rules stipulated, in an attempt to prevent the Venice Beach-style pop-up doctors that flourish under some states’ loose medical marijuana rules.

The OAPP also has a much lower financial bar of entry than the state’s broader Medical Cannabis Patient Program, a logical first step in getting people to toss their pills. While the Illinois Department of Public Health charges $100 a year to become a qualifying patient for purchases in dispensaries, those taking part in the OAPP will only have to pay a $10 fee to gain access for 90 days, according to a press release from the state.

Should a person’s physician decide they need to continue their pain treatment with marijuana after the first 90 days, they can renew for another 90 days. Should they decide they want to enter the full medical marijuana program, their OAPP status will be canceled and they will continue to have access to dispensaries for 90 more days while their full registration is reviewed. Access for everyone applying during the review process started on Feb. 1, not just transitioning OAPP patients, the press release stated.

Illinois is now on the cutting edge of cannabis harm reduction. Harm reduction practices are designed to reduce the negative impacts of drugs on users and the rest of society without necessarily condoning the action. Is smoking a joint the absolute best thing for your back pain? No. But it’s certainly better than starting a cycle of endless addiction thanks to a bottle of Oxycodone.

Unfortunately, one of the things pushing the new harm reduction principles forward in Illinois is the necessity. The opioid epidemic is the most significant public health and safety crisis facing the state, according to the state’s Opioid Action Plan, released in September 2017.

The Alternatives to Opiates Act of 2018, which established the OAPP, cited the report, saying: “Fueled by the growing opioid epidemic, drug overdoses have now become the leading cause of death nationwide for people under the age of 50. In Illinois, opioid overdoses have killed nearly 11,000 people since 2008. Just last year, nearly 1,900 people died of overdoses, almost twice the of the number of fatal car accidents. Beyond those deaths, there are thousands of emergency department visits, hospital stays, as well as pain suffered by individuals, families, and communities.”

According to the action plan report, at the current growing overdose rate in Illinois, the opioid epidemic will claim 2,700 lives in 2020. The report also pointed to causes for that expected rise in fatalities, saying it resulted from the rate and amount opioids have been prescribed for pain in recent decades.

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