I've written fairly extensively about the role cannabis can play as a tool to deal with the opioid crisis. Illinois' state senate has just passed a bill that, if passed and duplicated in other states, could serve to test that idea.
According to the AP (via SFGate), the Illinois Senate late last month passed a bipartisan bill 44-6 which would allow medical cannabis use for those with both an opioid prescription and the written recommendation of their doctor. These patients could then temporarily purchase up to 2.5 ounces every two weeks from a medical cannabis dispensary, for 12 months. At the end of that time, they could apply for permanent medical card for ongoing conditions.
This comes on the heels of a recent study showing that states with some form of a regulated cannabis program have a reduction of opioid prescriptions by up to 14 percent.
The bill was introduced by Democratic State Senator Don Harmon, who said he did so to combat a “a crisis ravaging the state.”
“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,” said Harmon.A spokesperson for Republican Governor Bruce Rauner said he is "open to all solutions to the crisis," per the AP.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that from 1999 to 2016, the rate increased from 3.9 to 15.3 deaths per 100,000 persons in Illinois—equivalent to 483 and 1,947 annual deaths statewide. The number of heroin-related deaths nearly quadrupled from 269 deaths in 2012 to 1,040 deaths in 2016. Overdose deaths attributed to synthetic opioids also increased dramatically during the same period, from 84 to 907 deaths.
Eight million opioid prescriptions were written in Illinois in 2015, which is 60 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons—a shocking number, but one that's down 10 percent compared to 2013 and less than the national rate of 70 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons.
Still, that is too many opioid prescriptions. More cannabis, fewer pills.