New law allows patients to opt for medical marijuana instead of opioids

Sarah Schulte Image
Friday, February 1, 2019
Opioid Alternative Pilot Program allows patients to choose marijuana over opioids
A new Illinois law allows patients to choose medical marijuana over opioids with a doctor's permission.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The state of Illinois is moving to use marijuana to curb opioid deaths.

The Opioid Alternative Pilot Program law was passed in 2018, but took affect Friday.

With a doctor's approval, patients may buy medical marijuana at a licensed dispensary instead of using prescribed opioids to treat pain. The law is expected to double the number of medical marijuana users in the next year.

Pilot Program patient Tashena Altman, 31, was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease as a child and has been living with severe pain most of her life.

"Have you ever had a Charley horse before? Think of that times 12, but you can get it in your eye, your legs, your neck, your face," Altman said.

For 27-year-old Pilot Program patient Dan, it was old high school and college football injuries that left him with chronic pain.

"Especially in the colder months, you feel all those old injuries popping back up, the past couple days I've been really hurting," Dan said.

Both Altman and Dan were prescribed opioids, but both feared addiction and did not like the way the drugs made them feel. They turned to medical marijuana as an alternative.

Altman and Dan were the first patients to buy medical cannabis under the new law.

"Nobody has ever overdosed on cannabis," said Illinois State Senator Don Harmon. "As a policy maker, that's a chance I'm willing to take if we can substitute a more benign medicine for a much more severe one."

With certification from a doctor, the on-line process to qualify is relatively quick. Patients will need a copy of their driver's license, a passport photo, proof of an Illinois address and a $10 payment.

Patients can register and buy from a dispensary on the same day. Registrations are valid for 90 days and can be renewed.

"I'm really excited to see what it could do to me to live my life comfortably," Dan said.

President Donald Trump has also recently outlined a new National Drug Control strategy designed to educate the public about the opioid epidemic and reduce deaths from opioid addiction.

The new plan coincides with Jim Carroll's swearing in as director of the White House Drug Control office.