On August 28, Governor Bruce Rauner signed Illinois Senate Bill 336 into law, establishing the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program. This legislation enables doctors to prescribe medical cannabis for patients with conditions that would typically qualify for opioids such as Vicodin, Oxycontin or Percocet.
Here’s why Medicine Man Technologies sees the passing of SB 336 as significant progress.
In 2016, around 2.1 million people in America had an opioid addiction and 42,249 died from overdosing. And according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these overdoses recently became the most common cause of accidental death in the United States, eclipsing both vehicular accidents and shooting deaths.
While Illinois established a medical cannabis program in 2014, its list of 40 debilitating conditions does not cover every ailment that might qualify for an opioid prescription. SB 336 closes that gap.
Governor Rauner had this to say, “We’ve got to do everything we can to stop this vicious epidemic. We are creating an alternative to opioid addiction…It’s clear that medical marijuana treats pain effectively, and is less addictive and disruptive than opioids.”
Highlights of the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program
To launch the program by December 1, 2018, emergency authority to develop a foundation and operate the program has been granted to multiple departments within the state of Illinois: Public Health, Human Services, Agriculture, as well as Financial and Professional Regulation.
For now, the key requirement is a “bona fide” relationship between patient and physician, established via a hospital, healthcare facility or the doctor’s own office. The doctor must also be responsible for the patient’s ongoing care, including ongoing assessments and treatment. Another provision prohibits any business from charging a patient fees in exchange for completing an eligibility application.
Once a prescription has been issued, a patient can have it filled at a medical cannabis dispensary under a “provisional registration” status. Each patient then has 90 days to submit a medical cannabis application for processing by the state. Upon approval, they may acquire up to 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis every 14 days. This status also extends beyond patients typically prescribed opioids to include those suffering from a qualifying, debilitating condition.
In addition, all medical cannabis patients will have easier access thanks to the passing of SB 336. The application process no longer requires fingerprinting or a background check, a divisive prerequisite that barred many potential patients, some with unrelated drug convictions, from accessing the program.
Potential Outcomes and Current Study Results
At Medicine Man Technologies, it’s our hope that the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program will add to the growing evidence that medical cannabis can help to ease the current opioid crisis in America. If so, the state’s legislature is expected to prolong or remove the program’s sunset date of July 1, 2020.
Numerous studies have already been conducted, including one that was recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Here, researchers examined Medicare Part D patients and found that prescriptions filled for all opioids decreased by 2.11 million daily doses per year if the state offered some type of medical cannabis program. For programs that provided dispensaries, versus only home growing, the decrease was 3.742 million daily doses per year.
Another report by the RAND Corporation found that states where medical cannabis was allowed and dispensaries were operational, there were lower levels of opioid-related deaths. According to Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, co-author of the study and co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, “Our findings are consistent with previous studies showing an association between the legalization of medical marijuana and lower deaths from overdoses of opioids.”
While it remains to be seen how SB 336 will affect opioid issues in Illinois, giving patients and doctors the power to treat more conditions with medical cannabis is certainly a big step in the right direction.
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