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MINNEAPOLIS — Seeking an alternative to opioid drugs, Vireo Health has released a draft protocol outlining the replacement of oxycodone, morphine and others with medical cannabis for pain treatment.

The protocol, called FREDOM — Flexible Reduction and Expedited Discontinuation of Opioid Medications — is being developed as a potential alternative for doctors treating patients with chronic pain.

“As an emergency medicine physician, I saw firsthand that opioids are overused, frequently abused and too often the result of fatal overdoses,” said Dr. Kyle Kingsley, Vireo CEO. “We view this protocol and the data that will follow as a first step in combating this public health crisis.”

More than 14,000 people in the U.S. died from prescription painkiller abuse in 2014, according to the CDC. Vireo plans to collect observational data from those using medical cannabis as an opioid alternative — particularly in Minnesota. Starting Aug. 1, it becomes legal in the state for patients to treat intractable pain — pain that can’t be cured or otherwise treated — with medical cannabis.

The company has opened its draft protocol to the public with the hopes of developing a better understanding of how cannabis can be used as an alternative for treating pain to other drugs — legal and illicit alike, according to a Vireo press release.

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Patrick McClellan, a medical cannabis advocate with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, said his life has improved drastically since medical cannabis became legal in July 2015. He uses cannabis to treat his muscle spasms and has since been able to stop using a “dangerous cocktail” of narcotic prescriptions that, when used together, had the potential to be lethal.

“My neurologist says I now look better than I have in the past 10 years,” McClellan said in a December interview with Forum News Service. “I think it’s really important for people who are suffering to think about potentially using this medication as opposed to some of the pharmaceutical medications that are available.”

Vireo is the parent company of Minnesota Medical Solutions, one of two medical cannabis companies in the state.

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