Swapping Your Opioid Prescriptions For Pot Could Soon Be Reality In Colorado And Illinois
If all goes according to plan, patients in Colorado and Illinois can soon swap their opioid prescriptions for pot.
Two new bills have been introduced as a response to the current opioid epidemic killing thousands of lives across the country, written up by lawmakers in both states, writes the Denver Post.
Senate Bill 18-261 was introduced by Republican State Senator Vicki Marble; it would permit Colorado doctors to write medical cannabis prescriptions for any illness that they would normally prescribe painkillers for. Even though Colorado has been a pioneer in the US for recreational cannabis legislations, it still has a lot to catch up with in terms of medical use. The state only has 9 qualifying conditions for medical cannabis – all of which are considered life-threatening or debilitating. Opioids can be prescribed for anything even as simple as tooth surgery, which has legalization advocates reasoning out that these incidences can cause life-long addictions to the drug.
“We’ve got nothing to lose and so much to gain,” Blair Hubbard told the Denver Post. Hubbard is recovering from an opioid addiction which started out when she was prescribed painkillers for wisdom tooth removal. “I’m tired of hearing of people dying or people sick in the hospital because of what we thought was an innocent introduction to pain medication,” she says.
SB-18-261 has received criticism from Dr. Larry Wolk of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We’re not set up… for this acute pain situation,” he told the hearing. “This would last maybe three days to a week. But, when you receive a medical marijuana card, it’s good for a year.” He also claims that there isn’t sufficient evidence from clinical trials that cannabis is effective in treating acute pain. But Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg asked, “If a consumer believes they are indeed being helped, is there a downside to allow this to move forward?” The bill was approved unanimously and it’s now waiting for a vote before the full Senate.
Illinois lawmakers are following suit as a means of solving the opioid epidemic that is also afflicting the state. However, instead of allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis, they are looking to allow any recently issued prescriptions for painkillers to be a valid recommendation for medical cannabis.
In doing so, they would allow patients the discretion to choose cannabis over opioids on their own. “When people ask me if we are not simply creating a gateway, I tell people this: I don’t know if cannabis is addictive, but I do know this: opioids and heroin kills people, cannabis does not,” says Don Harmon, state senator and sponsor of the Illinois medical cannabis expansion bill. The proposal would allow patients to bring their opioid prescriptions together with a signed doctor’s note into a cannabis dispensary, and purchase cannabis that easily. However, the dispensary will also be required to authenticate the doctor’s approval, while ensuring that the patient doesn’t already have access to cannabis through other means. They would then be granted a temporary card valid for 12 months to purchase cannabis limited to 2.5 ounces every two weeks. Once the year has ended, the patient has the option of applying for a permanent medical cannabis card if their condition doesn’t improve.
Illinois currently allows people to purchase medical cannabis if they qualify for specific conditions such as muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, and cancer.
Other States Battling Opioid Epidemic
In Iowa, the Senate has just overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill that sought to address their own opioid crisis. House File 2377 was passed by Senate with a 48-0 vote. It would restrict the number of opioid prescriptions while establishing Good Samaritan regulations for people who report overdose cases. It would also require physicians to electronically file every single prescription, as a means of avoiding the possibility of forged signatures on paper prescriptions.
In 2015, Iowa saw 59 opioid overdose deaths, and 163 opioid-related deaths on top of that. The following year, overdose deaths jumped to 86 and opioid-related deaths surged to 180; preliminary data from 2017 revealed that there were 99 overdose deaths, followed by 202 opioid-related deaths.
Sen. Thomas Greene, the bill’s floor manager and a pharmacist, stated that the bill was conceived following meetings held last year among lawmakers together with people who are directly involved in the opioid epidemic. “We must move forward on this,” Greene said.
He also said that the bill, which covers 21 sections and seven divisions, intends to prevent “doctor shopping”, and over-prescribing highly addictive drugs.