Statement: Discriminatory conduct relating to people who use drugs and drug treatment services, re: Medicinal Cannabis.

At CAHMA we are dedicated to promoting the health and rights of people who use drugs in our community. We want to inform our community about recent developments regarding the provision of medicinal cannabis and its impact on individuals with a history of substance use or those currently undergoing Opioid Maintenance Treatment (OMT).

What’s Happening?

Many community members and healthcare providers have raised concerns about discriminatory practices that limit access to medicinal cannabis for people with a history of substance use. Despite the growing evidence supporting medicinal cannabis as a safe and effective treatment for various conditions, including chronic pain, anxiety, and insomnia, individuals with a record of substance use are facing significant barriers.

Key Issues:

  1. Denial of Prescriptions:
    • People who have used drugs or are on OMT are being denied prescriptions for medicinal cannabis from both tele-health clinics and face-to-face prescribers.
    • This restriction limits their options for managing chronic health conditions, forcing them to endure ongoing pain and suffering or seek out product from the illicit market, opening them up to criminalisation.
  2. Increased Scrutiny on Prescribers:
    • General Practitioners (GPs) and nurse practitioners who prescribe medicinal cannabis to these individuals are subject to additional surveillance.
    • This increased scrutiny discourages prescribers from offering the best available care due to fear of regulatory repercussions.
  3. Discriminatory Policies:
    • Current policies and practices are discriminatory, particularly affecting those with complex health needs and histories of substance use.
    • These practices are creating unnecessary barriers to care and exacerbating stigma.

“Unfortunately, Alternaleaf has had a recent policy change and we are no longer able to prescribe to patients receiving OTP treatment (OTP is also known as ODT, OMT – ed). 
As a nation-wide clinic we must adhere to all state-based reporting requirements regarding an individual’s history of substance use disorders and their ability to attain a medical cannabis prescription. Furthermore as we operate solely within the telehealth space we are unfortunately unable to provide the appropriate provision of care required to ensure the safest and best outcome for your health. We recommend liaising with your community GP for further support and reaching out to an in-person prescriber in your local area.“

Alternaleaf communication to patient in Canberra, May 2024

Why This Matters:

Medicinal cannabis has a lower risk profile compared to many conventional medications, making it a valuable option for people with substance use histories. Denying access to this treatment not only causes unnecessary suffering but also perpetuates stigma and discrimination.

Our Call to Action:

CAHMA is calling on the relevant authorities in Canberra, including the Chief Pharmacist, Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith, Population Health Minister Emma Davidson, and Chief Minister Andrew Barr, to take immediate action to address these discriminatory practices. We urge:

  • Policy Review and Reform: Review and reform existing policies to ensure they do not unfairly discriminate against people with a history of substance use.
  • Support for Healthcare Providers: Provide clear and supportive guidelines for GPs and nurse practitioners to prescribe medicinal cannabis without undue regulatory pressure.
  • Community Engagement: Actively engage with affected community members and healthcare providers to understand their needs and experiences.

How You Can Help:

  • Stay Informed: Keep up to date with the latest developments on our website and through our social media channels.
  • Share Your Story: If you have been affected by these issues, we encourage you to share your experiences with us. Your voice can help drive change.
  • Advocate for Change: Support CAHMA’s advocacy efforts by contacting your local representatives and expressing your concerns about these discriminatory practices.

Together, we can work towards a fairer, more compassionate healthcare system that respects the rights and needs of all individuals, including people who use drugs.

For more information and to get involved, visit our website or contact us directly.

Sincerely,

The CAHMA Team

Written by Mitch Lamb

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