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Illinois Doctors Find Marijuana Is a Safe Alternative to Opioids


Addiction to opioids and prescription painkillers is a growing concern of Chicago surgeon Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph. He encountered a patient, whose case was extreme, to the point where the patient was on heavy drugs and pleaded for help. After a nine-month lapse, the patient came back to see the doctor and informed him that he’d replaced opioids with marijuana.

Cases like this are what show Dr. Bush-Joseph that marijuana can be a safer option, according to Chicago Tribune. The medical community in Illinois, as a whole, has a pattern of reluctance when it comes to embracing medical marijuana. Medical marijuana is legal in Illinois, but resistance still remains.

Dr. Bush-Joseph said, “There’s a large group of patients who have chronic pain who rely on opioids. Those are the patients who would benefit from medical cannabis.”

Not all physicians are resistant to embracing medical marijuana though. Some physicians say is it a matter of urgency to allow medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids amid the nation’s current opioid crisis. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 40 people die every day from prescription opioid use.

Speaking only for his own thoughts, Dr. Bush-Joseph agrees that some patients need the opioid medications (Vicodin, Percocet, etc.) for perhaps a month or two. However, after that, he supports patients having access to medical marijuana for long-term use as an alternative option.

The surgeon is a stockholder in Cresco, Labs – the state’s leading producer of medical marijuana for Illinois patients. He is also on the company’s board. He cannot, however, recommend medical marijuana for his own patients by law.

The Physicians Against Injurious Narcotics (PAIN) group was established by Dr. Bush-Joseph, Dr. Leslie Mendoza and Dr. Laurence Levine. Other physicians wanted to be public about their support for medical marijuana in lieu of opioids, but were afraid that their reputations would be tarnished or hospitals/medical groups would continue to push their opposition.

PAIN is supporting a new bill to expand the Illinois medical marijuana program to all patients who qualify to use opioids. Passing the bill would greatly increase the number of medical marijuana patients in Illinois. If this bill becomes law, those currently taking opioids would have their applications for a medical marijuana card expedited. They’d wait no longer than 14 days for an approval.

Democratic Party Senator Don Harmon is sponsoring the bill. He acknowledges that research shows that marijuana can, in fact, treat pain.

Harmon said, “We should be actively helping people who are addicted to opioids instead of treating them like criminals.”

A key point of arguing this legislation will be data from a 2014 study indicating that opioid-related deaths decrease by one-third or more in states where medical marijuana is legal. Advocates hope that the bill will be taken up in early 2018. Lawmakers are also expected to discuss recreational marijuana legalization.