Medical cannabis can be a lifeline for those suffering from severe pain

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Our nation’s addiction to opioids has been building for 10 years and Illinois’ failed medical cannabis policies compound this problem, putting our patients at a dangerous and potentially deadly disadvantage. The Tribune reported on President Donald Trump’s declaration labeling the opioid epidemic a national emergency. As a seasoned orthopedic surgeon, I can attest to the devastating effects opioid dependency has on my patients, their families and friends, and our society as a whole. It is a critical public safety issue that must be addressed immediately.

A 2014 study published in JAMA analyzed the association between states with medical cannabis laws and opioid overdose mortality rates. The study concluded that states with medical cannabis laws had a nearly 25 percent lower annual opioid overdose mortality rate in comparison to states without such laws.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid overdoses kill 91 Americans every day. While this is tragic, the more obscure storyline is of those who are heavily addicted to these drugs trapped in a deep fog on a downward spiral — often a race to the bottom. These are mothers, fathers, neighbors, even our youth. Physicians must have access to every available resource to help our patients reach their maximum potential and live the best quality of life possible.

The problem is that Illinois is discriminating against patients who suffer from severe pain — severe pain caused by our inability to treat the underlying conditions or when our surgical and medical treatments are unsuccessful. If you live in California, Minnesota, New York or any other of the 26 states that have legalized cannabis for pain — you are entitled to better treatment options than people in Illinois. This is a flawed policy that calls for immediate corrective action. From a clinical perspective, I have witnessed how medical cannabis has helped these patients. While the nation debates how to counter the opioid crisis, access to medical cannabis must be at the center of these discussions.

This natural, non-lethal remedy should be considered the same as other drugs we prescribe. Physicians should be directing how to best treat our patients. Not politicians. I understand that our state lawmakers and governor are at a crossroads on how to fix our state’s budget problems and rebuild Illinois’ future. I would argue addressing our state’s opioid addiction should be a top priority. In this divisive political environment, providing patients a lifeline to relieving their pain and improving their quality of life should be a nonpartisan issue we can all support. Even in Illinois.

— Dr. Charles Bush-Joseph, professor, Rush University Medical Center

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