Illinois considers medical marijuana as opioid alternative

An alternative to opioids, that’s the goal of an Illinois bill, which allows patients taking prescription opioids to access the state’s medical marijuana program.

"This opens the door a little bit further for those individuals who are taking prescriptions, heavier prescriptions," Republican Senator Dave Syverson said.

The proposal comes at a time when the state has been focusing on the deadly impacts of the opioid epidemic. 

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, people died from opioid overdoses last year.  Out of those deaths, the IDPH attributed 1,500 to painkiller drugs, such as Oxycontin, Morphine and Fentanyl.

"What we’ve been doing in the state and across the country is not working, too many people have been dealing with too many problems when it comes to opioid addiction and I think medical cannabis can be another option for them," Democratic Senator Steve Stadelman said. 

The state is also looking to streamline the process of getting your medical marijuana card in an effort to relieve a growing backlog of applications.

"[The] problem is that can take three or four months and for individuals who are going through something serious like chemotherapy treatment, that can become counter productive," Syverson said.

That’s why lawmakers want to ease up on background checks and expedite applications for patients taking opioid drugs.

"People have had trouble accessing [the program] and so whatever we can do to provide alternative treatment options, they will benefit and the state will benefit," Stadelman said.

A big step for the state when it comes to medical cannabis and one that lawmakers say could have a big impact in the fight against the opioid epidemic.

The bill passed both the house and the senate with bipartisan support.  It’s still uncertain whether or not Governor Rauner will sign the bill into law.

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