In an effort to reduce the number opioid prescriptions, Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) has introduced a bill that would fast-track temporary medical cannabis cards to patients as an alternative.
The Alternative to Opioids Act expedites the application process to 14 days for those prescribed opioid-based painkillers. Those accepted would get a 12-month temporary registry card for cannabis.
Medical cannabis has been legal in Illinois since the establishment of the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program in 2013. The drug is legal for medical uses in 29 states.
Harmon said in a telephone interview that the bill was inspired by patients who testified before the Senate Executive Committee last spring about getting addicted to opioids.
Patients described the difficulty in weening themselves off opioids. He said the bill aims to reduce the use of such drugs.
"With the opioid crisis rapidly getting worse, it's clear that what we're doing now isn't working," Harmon said in a press release. "Research has shown that medical cannabis can treat the same conditions for which opioids are prescribed. With thousands of people from every part of our state dying from opioid addiction, it would be irresponsible for us to not consider any safe alternative treatment."
Harmon noted that more than 60,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2016, "more than the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in the Vietnam War."
He said that opioid-related deaths have increased 120 percent in Illinois from 2014 to 2015, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Asked whether he was concerned about the argument that cannabis can be a gateway drug for more powerful sedatives, Harmon said, "I don't know that I believe it."
"I know heroin is addictive and opioids are addictive, and they're ruining lives and killing people," he said. "I'm willing to take the risk that medical cannabis is a better substitute.
"I think it's important to build a model that allows patients to quickly transition from opioids to something else," he added. "I'm optimistic that medical cannabis is an appropriate alternative."
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