Pain defines my life.
It starts in my hip and flows from there like from a leaking faucet. The pain dominates my thoughts and my time, as I think about how to lessen it. It forces me to sit on and sleep with ice packs. It keeps me from doing things I love.
But if pain is the thief that stole my quality of life, the state of Illinois is its accomplice. A remedy exists that would significantly lessen my pain — and do so without damaging side effects. It works but the state won’t let me have it.
I’m talking about medical cannabis. Currently, Illinois allows doctors to certify medical cannabis for 41 medical conditions. But sacroiliac joint dysfunction and osteoarthritis — the conditions from which I suffer — are not among them. More importantly, neither is intractable pain — the medico-legal term for the chronic suffering that governs my life. I have lived with this pain for more than 20 years.
In 2015, I asked the state to put intractable pain on the treatment access list. My doctor supported my petition. The Illinois Medical Cannabis Advisory Board did too, voting 10-0 to add intractable pain to the approved list of conditions. Then, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health Dr. Nirav Shah said, “No.”
Illinois made medical cannabis legal in 2014, following 19 other states. At that time, the General Assembly wrote, “Cannabis as a medicine goes back nearly 5,000 years. Modern medical research has confirmed the beneficial uses of cannabis in treating or alleviating the pain, nausea and other symptoms associated with a variety of medical conditions.”
Since my pain became acute, I have seen numerous doctors and received countless prescriptions and shots. Doctors have given me fentanyl patches without hesitation. Fentanyl, of course, is an opioid — a class of drugs that is killing people in record numbers. In 2016, some 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, the overwhelming majority from opioids.
Opioids have wreaked havoc on my life and I want nothing to do with them. On fentanyl, I became a prisoner — even more of one than I am now. I could not leave my house for fear of being more than a few steps from a bathroom. I lost 80 pounds. The drug made me horribly sick and worse, it clouded my mind. There were days where I didn’t know if I could get out of bed.
Cannabis can ease pain without any of those side effects; it is not addictive. Two respected medical journals reviewing 45 clinical studies establish that it is an effective treatment of chronic pain.
Earlier this month, Cook County Judge Raymond Mitchell ruled that Shah’s decision was “clearly erroneous.” He ordered the state to allow medical cannabis use for intractable pain. This is the third time that the state of Illinois has appealed this case. They are wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.
“The record shows that individuals with intractable pain would benefit from the medical use of cannabis,” Mitchell wrote. Yet the Illinois Department of Public Health said it plans to appeal.
Yet Dr. Shah seems to think that if I want to reduce my pain, I should use opioids. I don’t know what else to conclude. I feel the state of Illinois is forcing me toward opioid use when a better alternative exists. For my sake, and for the sake of chronic pain sufferers across Illinois, I hope Dr. Shah will reconsider.
Ann Mednick, 58, lives with her husband in Rolling Meadows.