Committee hears how medical pot can address opioid addiction

Marijuana plants for sale are displayed at the medical marijuana farmers market at the California Heritage Market in Los Angeles, California July 11, 2014. REUTERS/David McNew

By Greg Bishop 
Illinois News Network

Opioid addiction and overdose is a problem sweeping the nation and the state of Illinois. Some think that medical cannabis can help.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that there were more than 20,000 prescription painkiller overdose deaths across the country in 2016.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reports over 1,200 opioid prescription overdose deaths occurred in 2016.

During a Senate committee hearing Wednesday, medical cannabis patient Thomas Utley said he had to take countless pills to address a years-old spinal cord injury.

“I am a tumbling coach. I’ve done it for 15 years. I’ve built my life empowering kids and there’s many times I could not attend class due to being sick from the withdrawals and being out for days at a time,” he said.

Utley said using medical cannabis helped him get his life back.

Igalore Wood said she injured her neck at work years ago and pain medication made her social life worse.

“I was taking opiates all day long. I would sleep. I would do nothing. I was not involved in any family things,” Wood said. “I never wanted to go nowhere. All I wanted to do would was stay at home.”

Wood said the anxiety associated with the pain and opioid addiction went away when she started using medical pot.

Orthopedic Surgeon Charles Bush-Joseph shared an anecdote about a patient using pot to alleviate pain without opioids.

“‘Listen, doc, I’m off the stuff,’ ” he said a patient told him about prescription painkillers.

“He goes, ‘I want you to take another shot at my shoulder.’ And I said, ‘Well how did you get off?’ He goes, ‘Well, listen, I’m smoking a lot of weed,’ ” Bush-Joseph said.

However, Bush-Joseph said there’s still more study that needs to be done.

Regardless of several testimonials saying medical cannabis can help, opioid addiction is not one of the 41 conditions allowable for patients to get access to medical pot.

East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks said her city is appreciative of another benefit medical pot has brought.

“The medical cannabis industry has not only brought much-needed jobs and job training to East St. Louis, but the players are active civic partners committed to making our community stronger,” she said.

Jackson-Hicks said the cannabis industry helps address the economically impoverished area.

The Illinois Department of Public Health says so far, the cultivation privilege tax of 7 percent has raised $1.5 million, but it’s projected to be up to $2.1 million through 2017. That revenue goes to pay for the program’s administration.

A 1 percent tax on the sale has generated half a million dollars, which is deposited in the state’s General Revenue Fund.

To date, 21 of the 22 possible cultivation sites have been approved, and 53 of the possible 60 dispensaries have been approved.

There are more than 19,600 qualifying patients, including 160 individuals under the age of 18, who are part of the program.

The pilot program is set to expire in 2020.

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