State regulators awarded a $1 million, three-year contract this week to a New Jersey-based company to operate a toll-free help line for patients, caregivers and doctors accessing Ohio’s new medical marijuana program.
Direct Success Inc.’s Ohio subsidiary Extra Step Assurance will operate the help line from a call center in Bellefontaine. The call center opened in February 2017 and has since been operating a national toll-free medical marijuana help line.
Direct Success CEO Cheryl McDaniel said the center offers fact-based information but does not give medical or legal advice. McDaniel said the company has pharmacists on call 24/7 to answer questions about drug interactions.
“Our job is not to convince people if medical cannabis is appropriate for them. Our job is to give them the information so they can talk with their physicians. They have to decide what’s right for them,” McDaniel said.
Ohio’s medical marijuana law required the state Board of Pharmacy to establish the help line, believed to be a first among the 29 states with medical marijuana programs.
The help line must be staffed from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, per the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy contract. McDaniel expects the help line could expand to answer questions via text message, social media, an app and online chat, which would cost an additional $89,500 over three years.
Extra Step Assurance, under the business name Cannabis Expertise, is also one of three companies that has been approved to offer continuing education credits to Ohio physicians who want to register to recommend marijuana to patients. Extra Step Assurance also plans to help dispensaries establish compliance procedures, but McDaniel said the help line won’t refer callers to specific physicians or dispensaries.
McDaniel, an Ohio native, started the Extra Step Assurance subsidiary after offering similar services in the pharmaceutical and medical fields for 20 years. She said the Bellefontaine center will expand from three to four or five employees in the coming months.
The company was chosen over four other bidders: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Advocate Consulting Group, Automated Systems Inc. and Diversity Search Group.
Ohio is still in the process of setting up its medical marijuana program, which will serve patients who have one of 21 qualifying medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana. The program is supposed to be fully operational by Sept. 8.
The state awarded licenses for marijuana growers late last year and is in the process of choosing companies to make medical marijuana products and sell marijuana at dispensaries.