In a bid to discourage opioid prescriptions and to give workers a healthier alternative to the highly addictive drugs, an Ontario union is now offering medical cannabis products through its benefits plan.
LIUNA Local 625 in Windsor announced the change to its plan Tuesday after two years of widespread consultation with pharmacies and cannabis suppliers.
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"Now that we've added this, we're hoping more doctors ... will move towards prescribing the cannabis oil as opposed to the opioids," said Rob Petroni, business manager at LIUNA. "The most important part of this is to reduce the opioid use and or abuse."
The expanded benefits plan will cover medical marijuana for its retired or permanently injured members, but it will only allow medical cannabis oil products with reduced THC for its members who are still on the job.
Union members will pay for the prescription up front and will be reimbursed, which is a shift from the current benefits where workers do not have to pay.
"We're able to keep an eye on exactly who's prescribing, how much is being prescribed," Petroni said. That way, "there's no chance of manipulating the system."
New benefits package available in June
Other LIUNA locals are interested in seeing how the change will work as they are eager to adopt similar models.
"All benefits plans are watching us," Petroni said. "I'm fairly confident we are the first benefits plan through a trade union in Canada that has added it."
LIUNA members will have access to the new benefits package starting June 15. As the program rolls out, the union will monitor how often opioids are prescribed in order to track any reductions.
"Quite honestly, out of 3,600 people, if one person gets off opioids, it's better than nobody," Petroni said.