Illinois launched their opioid alternative program, allowing patients temporarily using opioids to manage pain to have the option of switching to medical cannabis.
The Alternative to Opioids Bill was signed by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner in August, and the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program (OAPP) was officially accepting patients Thursday morning as of 8:30 a.m. The program is the first of its kind in the United States and was launched at the HCI Alternatives medical cannabis dispensary in Springfield, Illinois.
“Just half way through the first day of the launch and we’ve already seen a lot of interest and patients and physicians have successfully registered for the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program,” Illinois Department Public Health OAPP Director Conny Meuller-Moody told Rolling Stone. “We’re optimistic the program will benefit many Illinois residents and offer them an alternative for managing their pain.”
HCI Alternatives have been looking forward to the launch of the program and previously said they have been preparing long ahead to make sure they can accommodate the patients who were likely to switch over to medical cannabis.
“This program will open the door to thousands of Illinoisans who don’t want to use dangerously addictive opioids to manage their pain,” said CEO of HCI Alternatives Chris Stone in a press release. “Our staff is ready to educate new patients about their options and walk them through the process. 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.”
Illinois has had a medical cannabis program in place since 2014 but is heavily restricted by long wait times and an equally lengthy application process. The new system is meant to make it simpler for patients to have access to medical marijuana more quickly. As opioid addiction has become an epidemic in the United States, this program will help people gain easier access to cannabis rather than relying on highly addictive prescription drugs.
“This is has given a lot of patients access to an alternative, and that’s what people are looking for,” said Verano Holdings’ Chief Retail Operating Officer Anthony Marsico. “Patients are excited. We’ve been getting tons and tons of phone calls with people asking how they can get enrolled.”
The new program will still require patients to get permission from a doctor but they can now get this electronically. The state says that patients will now be able to get their medical cannabis prescriptions within a few hours of seeing their physician whereas before it could often take weeks.