(Illinois News Network) -- A pilot program that allows pain patients to use medical marijuana as an alternative to opioid painkillers is now in effect in Illinois.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program allows access to medical cannabis for people who have or could receive a prescription for opioids from a certified by a physician licensed in Illinois.
“Along with the physician certification, a passport-like photo, copy of driver’s license/state ID, proof of Illinois address, and $10 payment is required,” IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said. “The OAPP offers individuals who have been or could be prescribed an opioid, another option for managing their pain.”
People first need to see their physician, who much complete a certification using the Illinois Cannabis Tracking System. After that, patients will create an account online, at a local health department or at a registered dispensary.
Chris Stone owns and operates the medical cannabis dispensary HCI Alternatives, which has operations in Springfield and Collinsville. While he expects to see more patients because of the new law, he also hopes to see a decrease in the number of overdose deaths from opioid abuse.
“Hopefully as they take statistics on this and they see this program over the first twelve months, be able to do the data mining and the research and the surveying to hopefully see those deaths go down and the additional cases go down,” Stone said.
In 2016, more than 1,900 people in Illinois died from opioid overdoses, an 82 percent increase from 2013.
Stone said the program will help one woman he knows who has had to use opioids to manage back pain.
“What’s she doing is saying ‘OK, if I can get off these opioids now and try cannabis, let’s see how that works in dealing with pain,' ” Stone said.
Illinois is leading the way by allowing marijuana as an alternative to opioids, Stone said.
“Within the next five years it wouldn’t surprise me if all the states have some type of opioid substitute program,” Stone said.
Illinois’ program, which passed last year and was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, gives qualifying patients the ability to get cannabis instead of opioids for up to 90 days. Depending on the condition, recertification for an additional 90 days is available.
Even though the bill was signed into law and immediately effective in August, a state official told News 8 the Department of Public Health had difficulties getting the program off the ground.