Illinois Pain Patients Can Now Swap Opioids For Marijuana

By Kelly Burch 02/05/19

The Opioid Alternative Pilot Program could be a game changer for pain patients in Illinois. 

pain patient ready to swap opioids for marijuana

Last week, Illinois launched a program that will allow people to get access to legal marijuana to substitute for opioid prescriptions without going through the state’s restrictive medical marijuana program. 

The Opioid Alternative Pilot Program is said to be the first of its kind. Illinois residents who are 21 or older can get certified from a physician that they have a prescription for opioids, or have a condition that could be treated by opioids. Then, they can access medical marijuana using their state ID. 

Illinois has a medical marijuana program, but it is very limited and enrolling can be a long, drawn-out process. The Opioid Alternative Pilot Program is meant to bypass delays and help more people deal with pain without opioids, Conny Meuller-Moody, the program’s director, told Rolling Stone.

“Just halfway through the first day of the launch and we’ve already seen a lot of interest and patients and physicians have successfully registered for the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program. We’re optimistic the program will benefit many Illinois residents and offer them an alternative for managing their pain,” she said. 

Christine Karhliker, who works at a Chicago-area dispensary, said that patients are excited about the program. 

“It is a big deal. It’s been a long time coming. Patients have been waiting for this day,” she told Fox 2 News. “I think it’s going to make a difference to the people that don’t want to be on opioids and haven’t been able to break away. It’s going to give them some relief and they’re going to realize I don’t have to have this heavy prescription with all these side effects.”

Under the program, patients pay $10 to get authorized for 90 days of cannabis use instead of opioid use. They can re-enroll after the initial 90 days, if they would have otherwise received a refill on an opioid prescription. 

Illinois doctor David Yablonsky said that the medical community is looking forward to the program as well.

“At least we’ll have an opportunity now as physicians to work with patients to try this instead of these dangerous and potent narcotics, you know opioids,” he said. “I hope it saves lives and that people come in and have a healthy alternative.”

Sam Dorf, chief growth officer at a Chicago-based marijuana company, said that the program shows that attitudes toward marijuana are changing, particularly in regards to medical use. 

“With the Opioid Bill, Illinois is at the forefront of recognizing the benefits of cannabis for health and wellness and combatting opioid abuse,” Dorf said. “It will serve as a great pilot program for other states to watch and as they develop their programs.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.