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Opioid Alternative Pilot Program in Illinois

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The Opioid Alternative Pilot Program launched Jan. 31, with registration open through the Illinois Department of Public Health, or IDPH. The pilot program is part of the Alternative to Opioids Act, which former Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law in August 2018, with the aim of combating the opioid epidemic.

The pilot program will allow patients that receive or are qualified to receive opioid prescriptions access to medical marijuana as an alternative to prescription opioid medications such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin.

The pilot program comes amid a nationwide epidemic of fatal opioid-related drug overdoses. Of the 70,200 drug overdose deaths that occurred nationwide in 2017, opioids caused 47,600, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. There were six times more opioid deaths that year than in 1999.

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Opioid-related overdose deaths in Illinois increased to 15.3 per 100,000 persons in 2016 from 3.9 per 100,000 persons in 1999.

The Alternative to Opioids Act also lifted restrictions included in Illinois’ original medical marijuana law, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, which took effect January 2014. That law required providers to fingerprint and perform criminal background checks on all applicants. In fiscal year 2017, IDPH denied 635 qualifying patients, some solely on the basis of failed background checks. The Alternative to Opioids Act eliminated the fingerprint and background check requirements.

“There is not a singular answer to the [opioid] crisis … it’s a piece of an answer,” state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, chief co-sponsor of the bill.
 “But the minute we passed this bill, New York state introduced a version of it. We were the first in the country to contemplate short-term access as a way to prevent addiction.”

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