Ireland’s leading medical cannabis experts have warned that the exclusion of patients from the government’s access programme will lead to a ‘life-threatening’ crisis.
Ireland’s Health minister Stephen Donnelly announced funding for the Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) last week, almost two years since the legislation was signed off in June 2019.
The programme is expected to commence later this year, but will only offer access to four cannabis-based medicines to people living with one of three qualifying conditions.
These include intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, severe treatment-resistant epilepsy and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The founder members of the recently-formed, Irish Medicinal Cannabis Council (IMCC) have now written to Minister Donnelly highlighting their “grave concerns” about the products that have been approved for prescription and the medical conditions that are covered.
Tom Curran, Gino Kenny TD, Alicia Maher, Clare McAfee, Dr Garrett McGovern and Vera Twomey, campaigner and mum of medical cannabis patient Ava Barry, set up the council to improve access to medical cannabis for Irish patients last year.
Ava, 11, who has a rare form of epilepsy, is among some of the most high profile patients in need of medicinal cannabis.
However the medicine that nearly all of these children use – Bedrocan products from the Transvaal pharmacy in the Netherlands – have not been approved by the MCAP.
This means parents will be forced to continue to find thousands of euros each month to fund their children’s medicine.
The IMCC welcomed the “long overdue” activation of the programme, but warned that a “crisis is imminent” and children’s lives could be at risk “within weeks” as supplies run out.
It added that excluding thousands of patients with debilitating health conditions from accessing cannabis treatment will lead to “widespread and unnecessary suffering” throughout the country and the “destructive criminalisation of thousands of people” who have no choice but to self-medicate illegally.
In particular, the IMCC describes the omission of chronic pain as “bizarre” and places Ireland in conflict with international standards and recognised evidence.
Over 1.5 million people in Ireland live with chronic pain and in its 2017 report the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) acknowledged that the condition is the most researched indication for cannabinoids, with the majority concluding that cannabis is an effective treatment.
Speaking to Cannabis Health, award-winning campaigner, Alicia Maher, who lives with chronic pain and holds a ministerial licence for a medical cannabis prescription said:
“I, along with many others that currently hold the ministerial licence and fall outside the three qualifying conditions, will not be allowed onto the access programme, even though our doctors are currently prescribing cannabis.
“We won’t have access to any of the cannabis products that have been approved and we won’t have our costs reimbursed.
“The HPRA who have made this decision does not seem to realise the far reaching impact that this will have. Their decision to exclude chronic pain as a qualifying condition goes against all the available evidence.”
Cannabis Health has approached the Department of Health for comment.
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