Illinois residents who are prescribed opioid-based medications can now take medical cannabis as an alternative, under a bill by state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Harmon says the Alternatives to Opioids Act aims to reduce the number of people using opioids who might be prone to addiction. 

“The opioid crisis is getting worse at an alarming rate,” Harmon said in a press release. “People dealing with severe pain and other medical conditions are looking for relief, and it is becoming increasingly clear that opioids may not be the safest treatment.”

Harmon said opioid dependence can develop within days and the new law “gives people a chance to act quickly and pursue another treatment option if they choose.”

The new law, which takes effect immediately, also removes the wait some medical cannabis card holders have experienced in getting the drug after they are approved by the state. He told Wednesday Journal in June that it can take months for patients to receive their cards and begin purchasing medical cannabis. 

He said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that an estimated 72,000 U.S. citizens died of opioid overdoses in 2017.

“This law will give thousands of Illinoisans who struggle with the negative side effects of opioids, including harmful addiction, another choice to manage their pain,” Rauner said in a press release. “This is not about personal opinions about cannabis. It’s about giving people more control over their own health care and pain-relief options.”

The Rauner press release notes that Illinois experienced a 13 percent increase in opioid overdoses from 2016 to 2017. 

Rauner noted that states with medical cannabis experienced a 14.4 percent reduction in the use of prescription opioids, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.


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