Illinois officials are now considering the use of medical marijuana to combat the rising menace of opioid abuse and dependence. A Senate bill that allows people who qualify to fill opioid prescriptions to be able to apply for medical marijuan program of the state has been placed.
Medical Marijuana - Image Credit: Atomazul / Shutterstock
This was supposed to be a pilot program wherein patients can get a certification from the attending physician to obtain medical marijuana from the dispensaries.
The dispensaries would be verifying the certification before dispensing medical cannabis in fixed amounts during the period of the opioid prescription. The bill was passed overwhelmingly at the end of last month in the Senate.
Democratic Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park, the bill’s sponsor had said that medical marijuana could help patients move from opioids for pain relief or pain treatment without using them at all. Harmon said, “We know that medical marijuan is a safe alternative treatment for the same conditions for which opioids are prescribed… This legislation aims to stop dependence before it begins by providing an immediate alternative.”
This was a response to the increasing problem of opioid dependence in the state. Overdoses of opioids have killed over 10,000 residents over that last decade said Republican Sen. Dale Fowler of Harrisburg. He said, “By supporting the implementation of a pilot program, lawmakers are seeking realistic solutions to a very concerning public health crisis while also ensuring that we are providing medical relief to patients who are in pain and suffering.” The Senate Bill 336 passed the Illinois Senate on 26th of April on a 44-6 vote. By end of this week, whole of the House is set to vote for this bill.
In a recent development, the Illinois General Assembly could now be considering expanding the number of people who would qualify for the earlier pilot program. The Senate Bill 336 now would include people who could have been prescribed the opioids too along with those who already have been prescribed these drugs.
Despite this experts in the field are not convinced. They argue that the therapeutic benefits of marijuana in preventing opioid abuse are not conclusive. The benefits of opioids as pain relievers too are being down played. Many have stated that there are no rigorous studies that show that marijuan can help prevent opioid dependence. They believe that this public policy is way earlier than science can actually prove the worth of medical marijuana.
The legislation however has reviewed bipartisan support. Sen. Don Harmon says, “The science is generally supportive of the concept… People don't die from cannabis. I don't feel like we're doing much harm.” Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, House sponsor of SB 336 said she was not aware of the studies that have been quoted by the opponents of the bill and called them “prohibitionists”. She said, “They're against alcohol, tobacco, gambling. I will say that most of the studies I've seen show the benefit of cannabis as ... an alternative for pain treatment that is non-addictive or less addictive.”
As of now science remains inconclusive on the justification of medical marijuana use in opioid dependence. The bill at present would allow medical marijuana use among this population for a three of six month period only. Some chronic pain patients are likely to qualify for longer periods of time. Expanding the scope of the pilot program to include more users and people with need for opioid prescriptions would increase employment in the legal marijuana industry.