Illinois launched its opioid alternative program on Thursday. The program allows patients immediate access to medical cannabis if they have a current prescription for opioids or would have been prescribed one.
When Illinois initially rolled out the medical cannabis pilot program in 2014, many patients described a bureaucratic application system and long wait times. The state's program remains one of the most restrictive and tightly regulated in the country.
The Opioid Alternative Pilot Program, which is the first of its kind in the U.S., is described as a much simpler process. Patients apply online and it can be done at a local health department or dispensary. Patients will need to receive a physician's certification form from their doctor indicating their opioid prescription and must be at least 21 years old.
Conny Moody, the director of the program at the Illinois Department of Public Health, said other than those requirements, registering is "pretty easy."
"They must pay a $10 registration fee," she said. "The must also have a government issues state ID. They must provide the department of public health proof of their address. They must submit a 2x2 color passport-type photo."
Once approved to the program, patients are able to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis every two weeks. This is valid for 90 days. Physician certifications can be renewed after those 90 days if needed, but patients will need to pay the $10 registration fee again.
Prior to the opioid alternative program, patients needed to be diagnosed with one of 40 qualifying conditions to receive cannabis. Advocates have encouraged the state to expand that list, citing a failure to include chronic pain.
Opioids are often prescribed to help treat moderate or severe pain, but can be highly addictive. The IDPH's website shows opioid deaths have increased 13% from 2016 to 2017. The opioid alternative program is designed to reduce opioid deaths and address the ongoing epidemic throughout the state.
HCI Alternatives is a medical cannabis dispensary located in Springfield and the Metro East. CEO Chris Stone said they are prepared to assist patients and for an increased demand in cannabis.
"Our staff is ready to educate new patients about their options and walk them through the process," said Stone in a press release. " We have also worked with our cultivation partners to ensure we have enough product to handle the expected patient increase over the next several months.
For more information, patients should speak with their doctor or check the IDPH website.