Illinois Opioid Alternative Program
Illinois residents who have been prescribed opioids now have an all natural alternative to the addictive and sometimes deadly painkillers. The aptly named Opioid Alternative Pilot Program will provide enrollees with access to medical marijuana for the duration of their treatment.
Illinois’ medical marijuana legislation was signed into law in 2015. The measure allowed patients with any of around 40 qualifying medical conditions to purchase and possess cannabis products at state-licensed dispensaries. Qualifying medical conditions include ALS, cancer, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, glaucoma and many others. Since it was initiated, sales of medical marijuana have topped $260 million. The state has licensed more than 50 dispensaries.
The program was expanded to include the opioid alternative back in August of 2018. Along with the expansion, a fingerprinting and background check requirement was dropped.
The addition of the opioid replacement program is expected to dramatically increase the demand for medical marijuana in the state, while cultivators and dispensaries are scrambling to keep up with demand.
The Opioid Epidemic In Illinois
The dramatic and rapid rise of prescription opioids and the number of deaths resulting from their use is no less than an epidemic in the U.S. Opioids are responsible for 49,000 of the 72,000 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2017. The crisis has been described as a “uniquely American problem.”
Although opioid prescription rates have been decreasing since 2012 their numbers are still very high, exceeding 50% of the population. Opioid-related overdoses in Illinois are on par with national rates. Between 2020 and 2016, the rate increased from 3.9 to 15.3 deaths per 100,000 persons. Nearly 2,000 people die from an opioid overdose in the state of Illinois each year.
Eight million opioid prescriptions were filled in Illinois In 2015. That’s 60 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons. And that figure is down 10 percent from 2013.
How To Enroll In Illinois Opioid Alternative Program
In order to take advantage of the program, a patient must have been prescribed opioids already or must be eligible for a prescription to opioids as determined by a state-certified physician.
Once a doctor has deemed that a patient is eligible for the program they will add the patient to the state’s registration system. Once that’s done, the patient can complete the registration process at any local dispensary or local health department. Registration can also be completed via the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program’s website.
In order to complete the process, patients will need to present a copy of their driver’s license or state ID and a passport-style photo. There is a $10 fee due upon registering. Once the process is complete, the state will assign a registration number. Patients are then approved for 90 days.
Illinois Medical marijuana cards will not be issued under the program. Instead, patients will receive a registration certificate via email at which point they will be eligible to purchase medical marijuana. The certificate must be presented at time of purchase either printed or electronically.
After the 90 days have expired, a patient will need to re-visit their doctor to be approved for renewal. The renewal requires going through the same registration process including paying another $10 fee.
There’s a big caveat for anyone who is licensed to drive a school bus or commercial vehicle. These people will only be eligible for the program if they cancel their license. (Oddly, this drastic requirement does not exist for those purchasing opioids.)
The Illinois Department of Public Health is set to roll out the program by the end of January and says it will update its website with instructions on how to register for the program. The agency will also make brochures available to dispensaries, local health departments, and health care providers and is also planning a webinar to educate physicians on the program.
The DPH also says it will be granting provisional access to applicants while their applications are being reviewed given them quicker access to the drug.
Illinois’ medical marijuana program is set to expire in July 2020 and will need to be renewed by state lawmakers and resigned by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and to become permanent.
Illinois Might Legalize Marijuana Altogether
Illinois residents may soon be able to purchase marijuana without having to deal with the medical system and the state.
Illinois Gov. Pritzker is calling for the swift legalization of marijuana for recreational use for residents 21 and older. Pritzker is pushing the Illinois legislature to develop legislation in the first half of 2019, but the program is not expected to be implemented until 2020 should it pass.
In the meantime, medical marijuana advocates are hoping that the opioid alternative program will save many lives in the state of Illinois and maybe even be adopted nationwide at some point in the future.