The Illinois Opioid Swap allows patients with an opioid prescription to immediately access medical cannabis instead.
In 2019, we are deep into our technological capabilities. We’ve sent spacecraft beyond the reach of our solar system; made gravitational wave detectors that are scanning the universe for unusual cosmic events; we are moments away from riding in self-driving cars; and each of us carries a powerful computer in our pockets. We’ve become so cocky about our technological genius that shortcomings, like the devastating opioid epidemic, feel extra painful. Fortunately, programs such as the Illinois Opioid Swap are bucking that trend.
Your Medicine Shouldn’t Kill You
Dying from medical attention makes one think of snake oil and brute surgical maneuvers of nineteenth century doctors. It doesn’t seem possible that modern medicine could destroy anyone’s life. Unfortunately, the sad reality of the situation is that people are dying. The typical culprit: opioids. These powerful narcotics are super-effective analgesics, but this strength comes with a cost. Opioids are as addictive as they are effective.
In the case of chronic pain, constant medication may very well be necessary. For those prescribed opioids for chronic pain, addiction is an almost inevitable concern. Once a body adapts to using opioids to fight pain, the removal of opioids can send people into withdrawals that can be more painful than the original ailment. This makes it incredibly difficult to stop opioid use once addicted.
Not only that, but patients often need to increase their dosage over time, or switch prescriptions, or add other drugs to improve the efficacy of their medication. The increased dosage presents a problem as the body has difficulty filtering out the large number of pharmaceuticals. Too often, opioids are the cause of overdose. Well over 40,000 Americans died from an overdose in 2016, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Illinois Gives Immediate Access to Cannabis for Opioid Patients
As a response to this crisis, Illinois has made it very easy for people taking opioids to get medical cannabis instead. In August of 2018, then Governor Bruce Rauner signed the Alternative to Opioids Act of 2018. The law created the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program (OAPP) as a part of their Medical Cannabis Pilot Program (MCPP). Specifically, the Illinois Opioid Swap grants the right to receive cannabis for people who have, or could have, an opioid prescription from a certified physician in the State of Illinois.
As of January 31, 2019 the program gives people the option of whether to use opioids or medical cannabis to treat their condition. Most importantly, it grants them the ability to utilize a dispensary almost immediately upon their doctor’s recommendation for cannabis.
Applying For a Medical Cannabis Card is Costly and Lengthy
Normally, applying for a medical cannabis card is a bit of a hassle. The Illinois Opioid Swap simplifies that issue to maximize risk prevention. After an in-person visit with their physician, their doctor will be required to send through the appropriate forms to grant approval for cannabis use. Once that is complete, it’s up to the patient to apply for an electronic card. Applicants must present the following documents via the online platform, at a licensed medical cannabis dispensary, or at a local health department:
- Their physician’s certification/recommendation for medical cannabis;
- A passport-style photo;
- A copy of their driver’s license as state ID;
- Proof of Illinois address, like a utility bill or a housing lease; and
- $10 registration fee.
Once the patient pays and their information uploads, they may take their electronic medical card. To ensure that patients have quick access to their medicine, once the patient has their electronic card, they are eligible to use it on the same day.
Once the patient has their card, they’ll need to renew it every 90 days with re-approval from their doctor.
Illinois Opioid Swap Removes Red Tape
The removal of the red tape is a significant step forward in reducing overdose deaths on opioids. In fact, in states where similar laws have been implemented, opioid-related overdoses have dropped. In an article published last year in Scientific American, it was found that opioid-related deaths have dropped by as much as 25% in places with medical cannabis as an alternative to opioids.
The drop in opioid deaths is multifaceted. Many people like cannabis more than prescription painkillers, so fewer people will use them when they have the choice. However, it’s also because medical cannabis can be used in conjunction with some pharmaceuticals. When used together, some pain is treated more effectively with fewer opioids, which results in fewer deaths.
Most importantly, for the people who don’t respond well to opioids, cannabis is usually their best option, and in Illinois, a welcome arrival.