Across the country, states desperate to prevent opioid addiction are considering medical cannabis as a solution.
Lawmakers in several states are looking to initiate or expand their medical marijuana programs including Kentucky, New York, New Jersey and Indiana. And in Illinois, where opioids have claimed nearly 11,000 lives over the past decade, the legislature is considering a measure that would allow patients with an opioid prescription get access to marijuana instead.
Such a policy could have made a difference for Springfield resident Larry Lenkart. In 2001, Lenkart awoke one night in severe pain. He thought it was a really bad flu, but it turned out to be diverticulitis – an infection that required four major stomach surgeries followed by years of crippling pain.
“In the beginning, it was like life wasn’t worth living,” Lenkart said. “When you’re in your forties, it’s way too young to be thinking about death everyday.
Lenkart, now 60, was placed on high doses of two different opioids, which he took around the clock. The drugs helped him manage his pain well enough to hold down a job and raise his daughter. He said he never abused them, but he hated the constant worry about when he would get his next dose.
Then last summer, with his doctor’s guidance, he weaned himself off Vicodin and began tapering off Oxycontin as well. To make the process easier, he smoked marijuana every night.
“It would help me forget about [the pain] to the point where I wouldn’t take that last dose of pain meds,” Lenkart said. “I was all for it.”
Expanding access to cannabis
Though Illinois has a medical marijuana program (along with 28 other states and the District of Columbia), Lenkart got the drug from a dealer. In Illinois, chronic pain does not qualify a patient for the program. And Lenkart couldn’t find a doctor to qualify