By Mary Hadac
Southwest Chicago Post
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, opioid deaths in the state increased thirteen percent from 2016 to 2017. But now, patients and doctors who once would have gone the route of opioids to treat chronic pain and other health conditions have more and better options.
Previous opioids users like Midway Dispensary patient Jeff B. have been able to find life-changing pain relief through making a complete switch to medical cannabis. Jeff was born and raised in Cicero and was a mechanic for 28 years. It wasn’t until 2010 that he began experiencing debilitating chronic pain.
The pain returned a few days later and Jeff was rushed to MacNeal Hospital. After two weeks of hospitals, doctor’s visits, and many tests he was diagnosed with a pinched nerve in his back. After an unsuccessful fusion surgery, Jeff went on medical disability and was prescribed Norco, a strong opioid pain reliever.
“I would get up in the morning and I would have the shakes,” he said. “I would have a burning pain down the left side of my leg. My back was in agony, it just hurt. So I would take a Norco and I would try, I would try desperately to be as normal as I possibly could be.”
“I had very bad symptoms like shaking. I was hunched over, I couldn’t walk right, constipation, everything. I walked with a cane before I had medical cannabis. I was in agony. When I had this I knew I was spiraling down a drain I could feel it. I really started getting depressed, suicidal. I told my wife I would go to rehab to get off these Norcos, but what would I do when I got out? I told her I don’t think I could live like this any longer.”
Jeff went through two more fusion surgeries, but they gave no relief to his debilitating pain. When the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program first started in Illinois, he was more than ready for an alternative to his prescriptions and wanted to try medical cannabis. “I went to my doctor, I have a pain doctor, and asked him to put me on medical marijuana and he says he can’t do it over here. So I went to my psychologist and he said good idea, can’t do it. So I went to my family doctor and he says I’m a great candidate.”
Midway Dispensary, being one of the first dispensaries to
open on the Southwest Side, had the experience and knowledge to suggest strains and dispensing methods that would work best for Jeff. “The employees, the ‘budmen’, they understand what you want fully,” he said. “They set me up with a few different strains, sativa, indica, CBD, and I started taking them. At that point I was still on two to three Norcos a day.”
Now that Jeff had an alternative that worked and made him feel good, he was more than ready to come off the Norcos. Like any addictive drug, coming off Norco comes with withdrawal symptoms. Working with his doctor, he was able to navigate that transition safely over the course of several months.
Getting caught up in the busyness of the holidays, Jeff missed his doctor’s appointment for his refill in December and ended up rationing the last of his Norco, and going off it completely almost a week before his January appointment. “I took my last Norco on December 30th and my appointment was the first Friday of the new year” he said. “I went in and told him what happened and he goes ‘You went five days without it? You’re cured you’re not going to use it (the Norco) anymore.’”
Starting in February of this year, millions more opioid users in Illinois now have faster and easier access to medical cannabis through the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program.
The Opioid Alternative Pilot program gives any Illinois resident who is 21 or over, has previously been prescribed opioids, or has a health condition or disease for which opioids could be prescribed the option to talk with their physician to get certification for 90 days, which can be renewed.
Once a patient receives their physician’s certification, they must complete their online registration within 30 days, which they can do themselves or they can contact their local dispensary for free application assistance. Upon completing the application, patients will be immediately notified of their approval and will be able to purchase medical cannabis that same day.
Patients registering through the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program will also have access to this expedited process, receiving a temporary ID the same day of approval. Illinois patients previously had to wait 30-90 days for their medical cannabis card to come in the mail before being able to purchase. Additionally, the state no longer requires fingerprints and background checks to gain access to the program.
“Now I can walk my dogs with ease, I can go for a mile walk, I can go out without worrying about tremendous pain, I can do my photography work, and I have a better attitude” said Jeff. “I’m not depressed, not suicidal, I think I’m a jollier person that I was before. You don’t have to live your life in an opioid fog, you don’t have to be dependent.”
For more information on this program and help with registration, visit the Midway Dispensary website or call them at (872) 267-7038.
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