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The Health risks and harms associated with the use of marijuana

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy11138
Date
2014-05-27
Topics
Pharmaceuticals/ prescribing/ cannabis/ marijuana/ drugs
  1 document  
Policy Type
Parliamentary submission
Date
2014-05-27
Topics
Pharmaceuticals/ prescribing/ cannabis/ marijuana/ drugs
Text
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present this brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for consideration as part of its study on the health risks and harms associated with the use of marijuana. Marijuana, or cannabis, is a Schedule II drug under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and growing, possessing, distributing and selling marijuana is illegal, subject to penalties. Despite that, according to the latest Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey1, about 10% of Canadians ages 15 years and over had used marijuana at least once in the past year. It is the second most used substance, following alcohol (at 78%). Even though there has been a decrease in marijuana use among youth (ages 15 to 24) in recent years, usage is still double that of the general population, at 20%. A quarter of youth that had used marijuana in the past 3 months, used it daily, however most use is infrequent and experimental. The average age of initiation is 16.1 years, and it is very concerning that continued use is most common among those who initiate use early. In some provinces, about 50% of students in grade 12 have reported using marijuana in the past year.2 The 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey - Mental Health3 reported that 1.3% of people aged 15 and over met the criteria for cannabis abusea or dependenceb - double that of any other drugs. The lifetime risk of dependence is estimated at about 9%, increasing to almost 17% in those who initiate use in adolescence.4 Similar estimates for other substances are 15% for alcohol, 23% for heroin and 32% for nicotine. CMA has longstanding concerns about the health risks associated with smoking marijuana. While our comments have more recently been made in the context of medical marijuana, the core issue is the same: marijuana usage poses serious health risks5. Teenagers are particularly at risk for marijuana-related harms, given their brain is undergoing rapid, extensive development. It is estimated that marijuana contains more than 400 active chemicals, including over 60 cannabinoids, of which delta-9 tetra-hydrocannabinol (THC) is the most often studied due to its psychoactive properties. The concentration of the various chemicals varies for different plants, batches and growth locations, and has varied over time. There is the potential for contamination by pesticides or other substances. Rates and quantities of components absorbed will also vary depending on whether the drug is smoked, used in food, inhaled with a vaporizer or applied topically. This is challenging for research on the health effects of marijuana. When marijuana is smoked, THC and other components are inhaled and absorbed through the lungs, rapidly entering the bloodstream. Effects are perceptible within seconds and fully apparent in a few minutes. The main feature of its use is that it produces a feeling of euphoria (or 'high') and sensory alterations, but it is also sought out to reduce pain, relieve anxiety, decrease vomiting and increase appetite. Adverse reactions can occur, such as drowsiness, sedation, blurred vision, photophobia, difficulty breathing and vomiting. However, its acute toxicity is extremely low, as no deaths directly due to acute cannabis use have been reported. Toxic dose-related effects that can occur include anxiety, panic, depression, paranoia or psychosis. Acute impairment typically clears 3-4 hours after use. Marijuana slows reaction times, impairs motor coordination and concentration as well as the completion of complex tasks. Marijuana use is associated with an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes. Young people, particularly males, are more likely to drive after using marijuana. The Cross-Canada Student Alcohol and Drug Use6 report states that 14-21% of students in Grade 12 reported having driven within an hour of using marijuana, and more than 33% of Grade 12 students reported having been a passenger in a car where the driver had used the drug. Chronic use is more common among those that start using as young teens; those that are tobacco smokers and heavy alcohol consumers and have used other illegal drugs. People with a number of pre-existing diseases who are chronic smokers of marijuana are probably at increased risk of exacerbating the symptoms of their diseases. For example, adults with hypertension, ischaemic or cerebrovascular disease could be at increased risk due to the cardiovascular stimulatory effects of marijuana. There is an increased risk of psychosis, depression and anxiety, particularly among those who have a personal or family history. A persistent lack of energy in chronic users has been referred to as an "amotivational syndrome". Although cognitive impairments (loss of memory, focus and the ability to think and make decisions) are likely reversible a few weeks after discontinued use, this seems not to be true for those who began using in early teen years, while the brain is still developing. Smoke from marijuana preparations contains many of the same compounds as tobacco cigarettes including increased levels of tar. Smoking marijuana may be more harmful than tobacco, as it often involves unfiltered smoke and deeper, longer inhalation. Chronic users often have shortness of breath after exercise, coughing and chest tightness. It is probably associated with bronchitis and emphysema and may have risks for chronic lung disease and lung cancer, comparable to cigarette smoking. This is less of a problem for those that use vaporizers, as a harm reduction strategy. The use of marijuana during pregnancy has been shown to affect the development and learning skills of children, more noticeably from the age of three, with these effects lasting into the teen years. Studies have shown an increase in hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. These children will be more prone to addiction and mental health issues as well as decreased cognitive functioning, and could require supports when in school. Some studies point to a lower birth weight. Besides health concerns, marijuana use can lead to social and interpersonal problems, including difficulties at school, in relationships and with the law. Awareness of Canadians of the harms of marijuana is generally low. 7 Youth tend to emphasize the drug's ability to help them focus, relax, sleep, reduce violent behaviour and improve creativity. There were also many myths, such as that it would counter cigarette effects, preventing cancer. Many stated that they did not consider marijuana as a drug because it was "natural" and relatively benign compared to other drugs. It is concerning that some teens said that marijuana actually made people better drivers by increasing their focus. There seems to be skepticism around prevention programs which aim exclusively at abstinence. Feedback has been that effective approaches would involve providing more fact-based information at an earlier age and using programs that aim at reducing the harms of using marijuana. It is essential that youth and users from other age groups be involved in the conceptualization and development of any such programs. CMA makes the following recommendations to the Committee: 1) Public Health Approach to Psychoactive Substance Use The CMA recommends that the federal government adopt a public health approach to increase the focus on preventing drug abuse, on treatment of addiction, on monitoring, surveillance and research and on harm reduction. Addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious, relapsing chronic disease, and substance use is a complex behaviour influenced by many factors. Therefore, a comprehensive multi-factorial strategy is necessary, and lessons can be learned from work that has been done to decrease tobacco and alcohol use and to reduce the harms related to these substances. A public health approach would place an increased focus on preventing drug abuse and dependence; on the availability of assessment, counselling and treatment services for those who wish to stop using; and on harm reduction to increase the safety for those that are using. It would seek to ensure the harms associated with enforcement are not out of proportion to the direct harms caused by substance abuse. Individuals with drug dependency should be diverted, whenever possible, from the criminal justice system to treatment and rehabilitation. The CMA believes that resources currently devoted to combating simple marijuana possession through the criminal law could be diverted to public health strategies, particularly for youth. A public health approach also includes efforts around the monitoring, surveillance and research of marijuana use to better inform the strategy. This is essential to better understand the short and long term harms as well as policy options to address prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. 2) Comprehensive Education and Awareness Program to Address Marijuana Use The CMA recommends that the federal government develop, in collaboration with the provinces and territories and key stakeholders, a comprehensive education and awareness program to minimize marijuana use. A comprehensive program to minimize marijuana use should include, but not be limited to: - Education and awareness raising of the known and potential harms of marijuana; - Strategies to prevent early use in adolescence; - Support for programs that decrease stigma associated with mental health and addiction; and - Support for health professionals' awareness and evidence-informed practice in the prevention, management and treatment of drug use. A specific focus on youth is essential, as they are not only more likely than adults to engage in risky drug use, particularly boys, but also disproportionately experience greater harms from that use. It is also particularly important for women of child bearing age, due to the risk to the fetus during pregnancy. Information that is tailored to the needs of specific populations will help people make informed choices. Efforts to prevent, reduce or delay the use of marijuana could result in a reduction of suffering and costs to the health care system. Health professionals must be involved and supported in this area, and it is important to ensure the availability of evidence informed clinical practice guidelines, practice tools and continuing medical education resources. 3) Driving Under the Influence Prevention The CMA recommends that the federal government continue to support, in collaboration with the provinces and territories and key stakeholders, strategies for the prevention of impaired driving. The CMA believes that comprehensive long-term efforts that incorporate both deterrent legislation and public awareness and education constitute the most effective approach to reducing the number of lives lost and injuries suffered in crashes involving impaired drivers due to marijuana. Efforts to prevent, reduce or delay marijuana use, especially in youth, are particularly important. Education is also important as many are not aware that marijuana affects driving ability or even that there are procedures that the police can use to identify impairment due to psychoactive substances. The CMA supports a similar multidimensional approach such as has been adopted with alcohol and driving. However, the specificities of impairment due to marijuana must be understood and investments made in research. Collaboration with key stakeholders such as schools, drivers' education and licensing bodies, as well as enforcement organizations is essential. In conclusion, the Canadian Medical Association reiterates the concern of Canada's physicians around marijuana use, particularly by young people. We are committed to working with governments and stakeholders to address this issue. a Abuse is characterized by a pattern of recurrent use where at least one of the following occurs: failure to fulfill major roles at work, school or home, use in physically hazardous situations, recurrent alcohol or drug related problems, and continued use despite social or interpersonal problems caused or intensified by alcohol or drugs. b Dependence is when at least three of the following occur in the same 12 month period: increased tolerance, withdrawal, increased consumption, unsuccessful efforts to quit, a lot of time lost recovering or using, reduced activity, and continued use despite persistent physical or psychological problems caused or intensified by alcohol or drugs. 1 Health Canada (2013) Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey (CADUMS). Retrieved from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/drugs-drogues/stat/_2012/summary-sommaire-eng.php 2 Young, M.M. et al. (2011) Cross-Canada report on student alcohol and drug use: Technical report. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/2011_CCSA_Student_Alcohol_and_Drug_Use_en.pdf 3 Statistics Canada (2013) Canadian Community Health Survey - Mental Health. Retrieved from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/130918/dq130918a-eng.htm 4 Hall, W. & Degenhardt, L. (2009) Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. The Lancet, 374; October 17. Retrieved from: http://mobile.legaliser.nu/sites/default/files/files/Adverse%20health%20effects%20of%20non-medical%20cannabis%20use.pdf 5 Beirness, D.J., & Porath-Waller, A.J. (2009). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Cannabis use and driving. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2009%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa-11789-2009.pdf. Diplock, J., & Plecas, D. (2009). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Respiratory effects of cannabis smoking. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2009%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa-11797-2009.pdf. Gordon, A.J., Conley, J.W. & Gordon, J.M. (2013) Medical consequences of marijuana use: a review of the current literature. Curr Psychiatry Rep 15:419. Hall, W. & Degenhardt, L. (2009) Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. The Lancet, 374; October 17. Retrieved from: http://mobile.legaliser.nu/sites/default/files/files/Adverse%20health%20effects%20of%20non-medical%20cannabis%20use.pdf Holmes, E., Vanlaar, W. & Robertson, R. (2014) The problem of youth drugged driving and approaches to prevention: a systematic literature review: Technical report. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Youth-Drugged-Driving-technical-report-2014-en.pdf Kalant, H., & Porath-Waller, A.J. (2012). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2012%20CCSA%20Documents/CCSA-Medical-Use-of-Cannabis-2012-en.pdf. Porath-Waller, A.J. (2013). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Highlights. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2013%20CCSA%20Documents/CCSA-Clearing-Smoke-on-Cannabis-Highlights-2013-en.pdf. Porath-Waller, A.J. (2009a). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Chronic use and cognitive functioning and mental health. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2009%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa0115422009_e.pdf. Porath-Waller, A.J. (2009b). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Maternal cannabis use during pregnancy. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2009%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa0117832009_e.pdf. 6 Young, M.M. et al. (2011) Cross-Canada report on student alcohol and drug use: Technical report. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/2011_CCSA_Student_Alcohol_and_Drug_Use_en.pdf 7 Cunningham, J.A., Blomqvist, J., Koski-Jannes, A., & Raitasalo, K. (2012). Societal Images of Cannabis use: Comparing Three Countries. Harm reduction journal, 9(1), 21-7517-9-21. Retrieved from: http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1477-7517-9-21.pdf Porath-Waller, A., Brown, J., Frigon, A., & Clark, H. (2013). What Canadian youth think about cannabis: Technical report. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-What-Canadian-Youth-Think-about-Cannabis-2013-en.pdf Racine, S., Flight, J., & Sawka, E. (Eds.). (2006). Canadian Addiction Survey (CAS): A national survey of Canadians' use of alcohol and other drugs: Public opinion, attitudes and knowledge. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://publications.gc.ca/site/eng/349980/publication.html
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A Public Health Perspective on Cannabis and Other Illegal Drugs : CMA Submission to the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy1968
Last Reviewed
2020-02-29
Date
2002-03-11
Topics
Pharmaceuticals/ prescribing/ cannabis/ marijuana/ drugs
  2 documents  
Policy Type
Parliamentary submission
Last Reviewed
2020-02-29
Date
2002-03-11
Topics
Pharmaceuticals/ prescribing/ cannabis/ marijuana/ drugs
Text
Cannabis has adverse effects on the personal health of Canadians and the well-being of society. In making this submission to the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) wishes to make it clear that any change to the criminal status of cannabis must be done so with the recognition that cannabis is an addictive substance and that addiction is a disease. The CMA believes that the government must take a broad public health policy approach to address cannabis use. Focusing on the decriminalization issue alone is inadequate to deal with the complexity of the problem. Changes to the criminal law affecting cannabis must not promote normalization of its use, and must be tied to a national drug strategy that promotes awareness and prevention, and provides for comprehensive treatment. Under such a multidimensional approach the CMA would endorse decriminalization. In this document, we primarily focus on the health effects of cannabis use. However, we also present information and recommendations on the use of other illegal drugs. While we understand that this goes beyond the intended scope of the Senate Committee's study, this information is important to the development of comprehensive policy, which we believe is required. We also recognize and welcome the fact that many of the CMA's recommendations will require a closer working relationship among health providers, justice officials and law enforcement. The CMA's recommendations are: Section 1: Illegal Drugs 1. A National Drug Strategy: The federal government develop, in cooperation with the provinces and territories and the appropriate stakeholder groups, a comprehensive national drug strategy on the non-medical use of drugs. 2. Redistribution of Resources: The vast majority of resources dedicated to combating illegal drugs are directed towards law enforcement activities. Government needs to re-balance this distribution and allocate a greater proportion of these resources to drug treatment, prevention, and harm reduction programs. Law enforcement activities should target the distribution and production of illegal drugs. 3. Addiction is a Disease: Addiction should be regarded as a disease and therefore, individuals suffering with drug dependency should be diverted, whenever possible, from the criminal justice system to treatment and rehabilitation. Additionally, the stigma associated with addiction needs to be addressed as part of a comprehensive education strategy. 4. Increased Research: All governments commit to more research on the cause, effects and treatment of addiction. Further research on the long- term health effects associated with chronic cannabis use is specifically required. Section 2: Cannabis 1. National Cannabis Cessation Program: The federal government develop, in cooperation with the provinces and territories and the appropriate stakeholder groups, a comprehensive program to minimize cannabis use. This should include, but not be limited to: * Education and awareness raising of the potential harms of cannabis use including risks associated with use in pregnancy; use by those with mental illness; chronic respiratory problems; and chronic heavy use; * Strategies to prevent early use in adolescence; and, * Availability of assessment, counselling and treatment services for those experiencing adverse effects of heavy use or dependence. 2. Driving Under the Influence Prevention Policy: The CMA believes that comprehensive long-term efforts that incorporate both deterrent legislation and public awareness and education constitute the most effective approach to reducing the number of lives lost and injuries suffered in crashes involving impaired drivers. The CMA supports a similar multidimensional approach to the issue of the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis. 3. Decriminalization: The severity of punishment for simple possession and personal use of cannabis should be reduced with the removal of criminal sanctions. The CMA believes that resources currently devoted to combating simple marijuana possession through the criminal law could be diverted to public health strategies, particularly for youth. To the degree that having a criminal record limits employment prospects the impact on health status is profound. Poorer employment prospects lead to poorer health. Use of a civil violation, such as a fine, is a potential alternative. However, decriminalization should only be pursued as part of a comprehensive national illegal drug strategy that would include a cannabis cessation program. 4. Monitoring and Evaluation: Any changes need to be gradual to protect against any potential harm. In addition, changes to the criminal law in connection with cannabis, should be rigorously monitored and evaluated for their impact. This document also contains the policies and recommendations of the CMA affiliated association that has specific expertise in the field of substance use disorders the, Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM). In addition, for an even broader health-sector perspective, the CMA has attached information on the policy positions of other key medical organizations from Canada and the United States in regard to decriminalization of cannabis. A PUBLIC HEALTH PERSPECTIVE ON CANNABIS AND OTHER ILLEGAL DRUGS INTRODUCTION The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to participate in the deliberations of the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs. This document was developed by the CMA's new Office for Public Health in consultation with our Affiliate Societies, in particular the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine, and our 12 provincial and territorial divisions. The use of illegal drugs and relevant policies is an extremely broad, multi-disciplinary and at times, controversial subject. Considering the breadth of this subject, the limited time-lines and the areas of particular interest of the Committee, this document will focus on the following: * What are the known health effects of cannabis and other illegal drugs? * What experience has there been with the decriminalization of cannabis? * What has been the impact of law enforcement on illegal drug use? * What changes need to be considered in Canada's approach to illegal drug use including the potential decriminalization of drugs? In addition to the above, this document will provide an overview of the relevant policy position statements and recommendations regarding cannabis and drug policy from other key medical organizations from both Canada and the United States. PUBLIC HEALTH PERSPECTIVE ON DRUG USE There are many different perspectives on the use of drugs including ethical and moral frameworks. This paper is prepared from a public health perspective where minimizing any harms associated with use is of primary concern. 1 This requires consideration of health issues related not only to the individual user and the drug being used, but also the key social factors associated with use. Drug use is a complex behaviour that is influenced by many factors. It is not possible to identify a single cause for drug use, nor will the set of contributing factors be the same among different drug users and populations. Public health objectives will vary depending upon the circumstances: preventing drug use in those who have not initiated use (e.g. pre-teens); avoiding use in circumstances associated with a risk of adverse outcomes (e.g. drug use and driving motor vehicle); assisting those who wish to stop using the drug (e.g. treatment, rehabilitation); and assisting those who intend to continue to use the drug to do so in such a manner as to reduce the risk of adverse effects (e.g. needle exchange program to reduce risk of HIV). To address this complexity, what is required is a public health strategy to combat drug use utilizing a comprehensive, multi-component approach. Public health strategies focus on the various predisposing, enabling, and re-enforcing factors that influence healthy behaviours and choices. 2 These sets of factors recognize the many influences upon individual behaviour including: individual and social attitudes, beliefs and values; skills; support, self-efficacy and re-enforcement. Public health actions can be grouped into the following major categories: 3 * Developing Personal Skills - education and skill-building (e.g. mass media, skill development to resist peer pressure, thinking skills); * Healthy Public Policy - policies, formal and informal that support health (e.g. school policy, substance use and driving, harm reduction initiatives); * Creating Supportive Environments - social and physical environments (e.g. adequate housing and food, community safety, non-chemical coping mechanisms); * Strengthen Community Action - community involvement in finding solutions (e.g. self-help, social support, community participation); * Health Services - range of services to meet needs (e.g. prevention, assessment, early intervention, treatment, rehabilitation, harm-reduction initiatives). This framework is useful in identifying the range of program components that need to be considered. Relative emphasis between components and the specific interventions selected will vary depending upon the target population (e.g. school students vs. injection drug users). The key is a balanced approach that will influence the factors contributing to less healthy behaviours with support for behaviour change and maintenance. CANNABIS Several commissions and task forces, in Canada and elsewhere, have addressed the issue of how to deal with cannabis use, although frequently their recommendations have not been implemented. 4, 5, 6 It has been suggested that "cannabis is a political football that governments continually duck...(but that) like a football, it bounces back." 7 This section of the paper will review current Canadian levels of use, health effects, law enforcement issues, and experience with decriminalization in other jurisdictions. Current Use The Ontario Student Drug Use Survey is conducted every two years in grades 7, 9, 11, and 13, although in 1999 all grades from 7-13 were surveyed. Use of cannabis within the preceding year increased from 11.7% of students in 1991, to 29.2% in 1999. 8 Increases were also observed for several other drugs during the same time period (tobacco, alcohol, glue, other solvents, hallucinogens, cocaine, PCP, and ecstasy). Increases in adolescent drug use have also been observed in the US, Europe and Australia through the 1990s. Compared with earlier cohorts, fewer students in 1999 reported early onset of cannabis use (before grade 7) compared with similarly aged students in 1997 and 1981. Past year drug use of cannabis, alcohol and tobacco by grade year is shown in Table 1. The proportion of students who have used one of these drugs increases with increasing grade level. [TABLE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY] Table 1 - Past Year Drug Use (%) by Grade Level, Ontario Students, 1999 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Alcohol 39.7 53.7 63.1 74.9 82.0 84.6 83.0 Tobacco 7.4 17.8 27.8 37.4 41.7 38.6 38.0 Cannabis 3.6 14.9 25.5 36.4 48.1 39.4 43.3 1999 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey 9 [TABLE END] The last national survey of illicit drug use in Canada was conducted in 1994. 10 At that time, 23% of Canadians, aged 15 and over, reported having used cannabis more than once during their lifetime with 7% having used it within the preceding year. Current use is much more common in those under the age of 25 and diminishes significantly with age, (Table 2). Most cannabis use is sporadic with the majority of adult and adolescent users using it less than once a week. 11 [TABLE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY] Table 2 - Lifetime and Current Use of Cannabis in Canada, 1994 Age Lifetime Use (%) Current Use (%) (past 12 months) 15-17 30 24.0 18-19 32.9 23.8 20-24 37.7 19.0 25-34 38.2 9.6 35-44 32.9 5.7 45-54 14.8 1.4 55-64 3.7 - 65+ 0.8 - Canada's Alcohol and Other Drugs Survey: 1994 [TABLE END] Health Effects Our understanding of the health effects of cannabis continues to evolve. Hall summarizes the effects into acute and chronic effects and whether these are probable or possible (Table 3). 12 [TABLE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY] Table 3 - Summary of Probable and Possible Health Effects of Cannabis Use Pattern of Use Acute Chronic Probable anxiety, dysphoria, panic, cognitive impairment, psychomotor impairment; chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, dependence, mild cognitive impairment, exacerbation of psychosis; Possible (possible but uncertain, confirmation required in controlled studies) increased risk of traffic accident, psychosis, low-birth-weight babies; cancers in offspring, impaired immunity From CMAJ 2000; 162: 1690-1692. [TABLE END] Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive substance in cannabis. THC is inhaled in the mainstream smoke and absorbed through the lungs, rapidly entering the bloodstream. Effects are perceptible within seconds and fully apparent in a few minutes. Cannabis combines many of the properties of alcohol, tranquilizers, opiates and hallucinogens; it has anxiolytic, sedative, analgesic and psychedelic properties. 13 Its acute toxicity is extremely low, as no deaths directly due to acute cannabis use have ever been reported. The main feature of its use is that it produces a feeling of euphoria (or 'high'). Toxic dose-related effects include anxiety, panic, depression or psychosis.14 It should also be noted that a significant incident of co-morbid addiction occurs in those with physical and mental diseases. People with major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are especially vulnerable in that cannabis use can provoke relapse and aggravate existing symptoms. A chronic lack of energy and drive to work in chronic users has been referred to as an "amotivational syndrome," which is currently believed to represent an ongoing intoxication in frequent users. 14 Cannabis slows reaction times, impairs motor coordination and concentration as well as the completion of complex tasks. 13 Due to the extended presence of metabolites in the bloodstream, it is difficult to correlate blood levels with acute impairment making interpretation of crash data difficult. However, it is generally accepted that cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of motor vehicle and aircraft crashes. Impairments of attention, memory and the ability to process complex information can last for prolonged periods of time, even years, after cessation of heavy, chronic cannabis use. A cannabis withdrawal syndrome similar to alcohol, opiate and benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms exist. 14 Cannabis use increases heart rate and causes blood vessels to dilate. These present a risk for those with pre-existing cardiac disease. Smoke from cannabis preparations contains many of the same compounds as tobacco cigarettes including increased levels of tar. Chronic cannabis smoking is associated with bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic cannabis use may have risks of chronic lung disease and lung cancer comparable to cigarette smoking. With increasing study and experience, it is clear that cannabis, like other substances such as tobacco or alcohol, can have a number of adverse physical and psychological effects. 15 Law Enforcement The 1997 data is the latest year with national drug offences' data for possession, cultivation, trafficking and importation (Figure 1). 16 The proportion of drug incidents is heavily skewed towards cannabis. This is intriguing since the health concerns of cannabis are substantially less than those of heroin or cocaine. [FIGURE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY] Figure 1: Proportion of All Drug Incidents by Drug Type, Canada, 1997 [FIGURE END] Of the 66,500 drug incidents in Canada in 1997, over 70% (47,908) were cannabis related. Of these, over two thirds (32,682) were for possession. The rate of cannabis offences has increased 34% since 1991 with cannabis-possession rates increasing steadily from 1991-1996 with a slight drop in 1997. Most (86%) of those charged with cannabis offences were under 25 years of age. It has been estimated that about 2,000 Canadians are sent to jail every year for cannabis possession.17 Despite the current level of enforcement, cannabis use has been increasing with over 40% of grade 11, 12 and 13 students having used cannabis in the preceding year. While it is obvious that only a small percentage of users are being charged, thousands of teens and young adults are being charged every year, receiving criminal records that can impact future employment, future interactions with the justice system, and be a barrier to acquiring citizenship. 11 Findings from several studies indicate that perceived health risk and social disapproval were much more important disincentives to cannabis use than legal threats. 18 Experience with Decriminalization in Other Jurisdictions A number of other jurisdictions have implemented alternative enforcement approaches to the personal use of cannabis. While none of these experiences directly predict what would happen in Canada, they do provide information to address some of the issues raised when decriminalization is considered. Despite the obvious interest in the impact of these policy changes, there is a paucity of well-designed evaluations (i.e. evaluations which were designed and implemented prior to policy change, rather than post-hoc analyses on available data). United States In the 1970s, several US states reduced the legal sanctions for possession of small amounts of cannabis to a maximum penalty of a fine. Despite the substantial potential interest in the effects of such policy changes, evaluative studies were relatively sparse. The available data, though based upon national high school student survey data as well as evaluations in two states, indicated that there was no apparent increase in cannabis use that could be attributed to decriminalization. 19 The high school student national survey data showed that while use of cannabis had increased in those states that had decriminalized possession, the rates of use had increased by a greater amount with stricter laws. California was one of the states which decriminalized possession, and similar to other states, experienced a decrease in cannabis use during the 1980s which based upon student surveys appeared to be due to changing perceptions of health risks rather than changes in the legal status of the drug. 19 Netherlands The Netherlands is the most frequently identified example of a country that altered its approach to marijuana. The Dutch impose no penalties for the possession of small amounts of cannabis and allow a number of coffee shops to openly sell the drug. 20 This policy therefore is not simply removing the potential for criminal records and imprisonment with possession, but actually partially legalized cannabis sales. This process began in 1976 and coffee shops were not allowed to advertise, could not sell hard drugs, no sales to minors, no public disturbances, and no sales transactions exceeding certain quantity thresholds. Initially this threshold was set at 30 gm of cannabis, a rather large amount which was reduced to 5 gm in 1995. Attempts have been made to compare the prevalence of cannabis use in the Netherlands with other countries. Since cannabis use changes dramatically with age and over different time periods, surveys need to be of similar populations during similar time periods to be comparable. Differences in the wording of questions between surveys also make comparison difficult. A recent review by MacCouin et al makes 28 comparisons between the Netherlands and the US, Denmark, West Germany, Sweden, Finland, France and the UK.21 Overall, it appears that Dutch rates are lower than rates of use in the US but somewhat higher than those of some of its European neighbours. Cannabis use is higher in Amsterdam compared to other Dutch cities and is comparable to use in the US. A limited number of surveys appear to show that from 1984 to 1992, there was a substantial increase in adolescent (aged 16 - 20) use of cannabis that did not occur in other countries. The increases observed from 1992 to 1998 however, were similar to the increases observed in other countries including Canada. Overall, it appears that while the increases in Dutch adolescent use started earlier than other countries, their prevalence of use was much lower than comparison countries so that by the late 1990s they had comparable rates of use to the US and Canada. Australia From 1987 to 1995, three Australian states decriminalized the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use by replacing penal sanctions with fines. 22 The courts in other states have tended to utilize non-penal sanctions such as a fine or a suspended sentence with a criminal record. The limited number of surveys conducted in Australia has failed to find evidence of any large impact on cannabis use (some of the surveys had small sample sizes and the trend in usage has been upwards in Australian states which did not decriminalize as well as in other countries that continue to prohibit cannabis use). Interestingly, despite the decriminalization, the number of notices issued by police exceeds the number of cannabis offences prior to the change in law. Summary The preceding sections have suggested that cannabis use is relatively common (particularly in teens and young adults); most use is sporadic; its use is increasing; and it is not harmless. Because of these potential harms, one would not wish to encourage its use. There is however, no necessary connection between adverse health effects of any drug or human behaviour and its prohibition by law. 22 The issue is therefore whether there are less coercive ways to discourage its use. Despite the current criminal justice approach where the bulk of all illegal drug charges are cannabis-related and the majority of these are for possession, use is increasing with thousands of teens and young adults receiving criminal records for possession each year. The available evidence from other jurisdictions suggests that decriminalization would not result in a substantial increase in use beyond baseline trends. Considering current trends, a comprehensive approach to discourage current usage is required. OTHER ILLEGAL DRUGS Illegal drugs other than cannabis present a different set of issues and concerns. While these drugs are not the primary focus of the Special Senate Committee's study, we have included a few key issues to better put the cannabis issue in proper context. Current Use The Ontario Student Drug Use Survey of students in grades 7, 9, 11 and 13 has shown that following a lengthy period of decline in drug use during the 1980s, there has been a steady increase in adolescent drug use. 8 Past year drug use in 1999 was reported as follows: ecstasy (4.8%); PCP (3.2%); hallucinogens (13.8%), and cocaine (4.1%). By comparison, tobacco, alcohol and cannabis were 28.3%, 65.7%, and 29.2% respectively. Canadian survey data of those aged 15 and over in 1994 found that about one in twenty reported any lifetime use of LSD, speed or heroin, or cocaine. 10 Rates of use of these drugs within the preceding year were 1% and 0.7% respectively. Health Effects The adverse effects of drugs such as heroin and cocaine are related not just to the drugs themselves, but also increasingly to their method of intake, which is predominantly by injection. Injection drug use (IDU) is an efficient delivery mechanism of drugs, but is also an extremely effective means of transmitting bloodborne viruses such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. The proportion of HIV infections attributable to IDU has increased from 9% prior to 1985 to over 25% by 1995. 23 IDU is also the predominant means of hepatitis C transmission responsible for 70% of cases. 24 The increasing use of cocaine, which tends to be injected on a more frequent basis, increases the subsequent exposure to infection. It has been estimated that up to 100,000 Canadians inject drugs (not counting steroids). 25 Transmission of bloodborne pathogens is not limited to injection drug users as the disease can then be further spread to sexual contacts, including the sex trade, and vertical transmission from infected mother to child. An epidemic of overdose deaths among injection drug users has been experienced in British Columbia with over 2000 such deaths in Vancouver since 1991. 17 Despite the seriousness of the potential adverse effects of illegal drug use and the potential for this situation to worsen with increasing transmission of bloodborne diseases, on a population basis, legal drugs (alcohol and tobacco) are responsible for substantially more deaths, potential years of life lost and hospitalizations. 26 [TABLE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY] Table 4 - The Number of Deaths, Premature Mortality and Hospital Separations for Illicit Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco, Canada, 1995. Deaths Potential Years of Life Lost Hospital Separations Illicit Drugs 805 33,662 6,940 Alcohol 123,734 172,126 82,014 Tobacco 34,728 500,350 193,772 From: Single et al. CMAJ 2000: 162: 1669-1675 [TABLE END] Expenditures on Illegal Drugs The direct costs associated with illicit drugs based on 1992 Canadian data are shown in the figure below: [FIGURE CONTENT DOES NOT DISPLAY PROPERLY. SEE PDF FOR PROPER DISPLAY] [FIGURE END] The vast majority of expenditures related to illegal drugs are on law enforcement. Considering the distribution of drug incidents, a substantial proportion of these are related to cannabis offences although health and other costs will predominantly be associated with other drugs. A substantial proportion of drug charges are for possession as compared with trafficking or importation (cocaine 42%; heroin 42%; other drugs 56%). 16 Despite illegal drug use being primarily a health and social issue, current expenditures do not reflect this and are heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach. Unfortunately, prisons are not an ideal setting for treating addictions with the potential for continued transmission of bloodborne viruses. RECOMMENDATIONS The Need for Balanced, Comprehensive Approaches Reasons for drug use, particularly "hard drugs," are complex. It is not clear how a predominantly law enforcement approach is going to address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use including overdoses and the transmission of bloodborne viruses including HIV. Costs of incarceration are substantially more than the use of effective drug treatment. 27 It appears that there is an over dependence on the law when other models might be more effective in achieving the desired objective of preventing or reducing harm from drug use. 18 Aggressive law enforcement at the user level could exacerbate these harms by encouraging the use of the most dangerous and addictive drugs in the most concentrated forms, 28 because these are easier to conceal and the efficacy of injecting is greater than that of inhaling as drug costs increase in response to prohibition and enforcement. 29 There have been several recent sets of recommendations from expert groups regarding the need for a comprehensive set of approaches to address the public health challenges due to drug use, particularly those associated with injection drug use (IDU). 17, 25, 30, 31 Recommendations include the following components: * address prevention; * treatment and rehabilitation; * research; * surveillance and knowledge dissemination; * national leadership and coordination. Many of the recommendations will require close working relationships with justice/enforcement officials. Drug abuse and dependency is a chronic, relapsing disease for which there are effective treatments.32 A criminal justice approach to a disease is inappropriate particularly when there is increasing consensus that it is ineffective and exacerbates harms.33 The CMA's recommendations have been separated into two separate sections. The first set of recommendations is focused on policies affecting illegal drugs in general. While this goes beyond the intended scope of the Senate Committee's study, in our opinion, these recommendations are equally important for the Committee to consider. The second set of recommendations is specifically focused on cannabis. Our recommendations in this section take into consideration the health impact profile of cannabis, current levels of use, extent and impact of law enforcement activities and experience from other jurisdictions. Section 1: Illegal Drugs The CMA recommends: 1. A National Drug Strategy: The federal government develop, in cooperation with the provinces and territories and the appropriate stakeholder groups, a comprehensive national drug strategy on the non-medical use of drugs. 2. Redistribution of Resources: The vast majority of resources dedicated to combating illegal drugs are directed towards law enforcement activities. Government needs to re-balance this distribution and allocate a greater proportion of these resources to drug treatment, prevention, and harm reduction programs. Law enforcement activities should target the distribution and production of illegal drugs. 3. Addiction is a Disease: Addiction should be regarded as a disease and therefore, individuals suffering with drug dependency should be diverted, whenever possible, from the criminal justice system to treatment and rehabilitation. Additionally, the stigma associated with addiction needs to be addressed as part of a comprehensive education strategy. 4. Increased Research: All governments commit to more research on the cause, effects and treatment of addiction. Further research on the long- term health effects associated with chronic cannabis use is specifically required. Section 2: Cannabis The CMA recommends: 1. National Cannabis Cessation Program: The federal government develop, in cooperation with the provinces and territories and the appropriate stakeholder groups, a comprehensive program to minimize cannabis use. This should include, but not be limited to: * Education and awareness raising of the potential harms of cannabis use including risks associated with use in pregnancy; use by those with mental illness; chronic respiratory problems; and chronic heavy use; * Strategies to prevent early use in adolescence; and, * Availability of assessment, counselling and treatment services for those experiencing adverse effects of heavy use or dependence. 2. Driving Under the Influence Prevention Policy: The CMA believes that comprehensive long-term efforts that incorporate both deterrent legislation and public awareness and education constitute the most effective approach to reducing the number of lives lost and injuries suffered in crashes involving impaired drivers. The CMA supports a similar multidimensional approach to the issue of the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis. 3. Decriminalization: The severity of punishment for simple possession and personal use of cannabis should be reduced with the removal of criminal sanctions. The CMA believes that resources currently devoted to combating simple marijuana possession through the criminal law could be diverted to public health strategies, particularly for youth. To the degree that having a criminal record limits employment prospects the impact on health status is profound. Poorer employment prospects lead to poorer health. Use of a civil violation, such as a fine, is a potential alternative. However, decriminalization should only be pursued as part of a comprehensive national illegal drug strategy that would include a cannabis cessation program. 4. Monitoring and Evaluation: Any changes need to be gradual to protect against any potential harm. In addition, changes to the criminal law in connection with cannabis, should be rigorously monitored and evaluated for their impact. CANADIAN SOCIETY OF ADDICTION MEDICINE The Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM), which was formed in 1989, is a national organization of medical professionals and other scientists interested in the field of substance use disorders. Vision The Society shares its overall goals with many other organizations and groups in Canada; namely, the prevention of problems arising from the use of alcohol and other psychoactive substances, and the cure; improvement or stabilization of the adverse consequences associated with the use of these drugs. This Society aims to achieve these goals through the fostering and promotion of medical sciences and clinical practice in this field in Canada, particularly by: * fostering and promotion of the roles of physicians in the prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug related problems; * improvement in the quality of medical practice in the drug and alcohol field through: establishment and promotion of standards of clinical practice; fostering and promotion of research; and fostering and promotion of medical education; * promotion of professional and public awareness of the roles that physicians can play in the prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug related problems; * fostering and promotion of further development of programs for the prevention and treatment of problems of alcohol and drug use in physicians; and * contributing to professional and public examination and discussion of important issues in the drug and alcohol field. Policy Statement The CSAM National Drug Policy statement requires that: Canada must have a clear strategy for dealing with the cultivation, manufacture, importation, distribution, advertising, sale, possession and use of psychoactive substances regardless of whether they are classified as legal or illegal. Drug possession for personal use must be decriminalized and distinguished from the trafficking or illegal sale/distribution of drugs to others that must carry appropriate criminal sanctions. The individual and public health impact of substance use, substance abuse and substance dependence must be taken into account at all times. An assessment to ascertain the extent of a substance use disorder and screening for addiction must be an essential part of dealing with someone identified as an illicit drug user or possessor. Appropriate funding must be made available for supply reduction and demand reduction of various psychoactive substances that carry an abuse or addiction liability. Recommendations 1. National policies and regulations must present a comprehensive and coordinated strategy aimed at reducing the harm done to individuals, families and society by the use of all drugs of dependence regardless of the classification of "legal" or "illegal" 2. Prevention programs need to be comprehensively designed to target the entire range of dependence-producing drugs to enhance public awareness and affect social attitudes with scientific information about the pharmacology of drugs and the effects of recreational and problem use on individuals, families, communities and society. 3. Outreach, identification, referral and treatment programs for all persons with addiction need to be increased in number and type until they are available and accessible in every part of the country to all in need of such services. 4. Law enforcement measures aimed at interrupting the distribution of illicit drugs need to be balanced with evidenced based treatment and prevention programs, as well as programs to ameliorate those social factors that exacerbate addiction and its related problems. 5. Any changes in laws that would affect access to dependence-producing drugs should be carefully thought out, implemented gradually and sequentially, and scientifically evaluated at each step of implementation, including evaluating the effects on: * access to young people and prevalence of use among youth; * prevalence of use in pregnancy and effects on offspring; * prevalence rates of alcoholism and other drug dependencies; * crime, violence and incarceration rates; * law enforcement and criminal justice costs; * industrial safety and productivity; * costs to the health care system; * family and social disruption; * other human, social and economic costs. 6. CSAM opposes * any changes in law and regulation that would lead to a sudden significant increase in the availability of any dependence-producing drug (outside of a medically-prescribed setting for therapeutic indications). All changes need to be gradual and carefully monitored. * any system of distribution of dependence-producing drugs that would involve physicians in the prescription of such drugs for other than therapeutic or rehabilitative purposes. 7. CSAM supports * public policies that would offer treatment and rehabilitation in place of criminal penalties for persons with psychoactive substance dependence and whose offense is possession of a dependence-producing drug for their own use. Those who are found guilty of an offense related to Addiction, proper assessment and treatment services must be offered as part of their sentence. This goal may be attained through a variety of sentencing options, depending upon the nature of the offense. * an increase in resources devoted to basic and applied research into the causes, extent and consequences of alcohol and other drug use, problems and dependence, and into methods of prevention and treatment. RELEVANT POSITION STATEMENTS OF OTHER MEDICAL HEALTH ORGANIZATIONS The purpose of this section is to provide the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs with information on the policy positions of other key medical organizations from Canada and the United States in regard to decriminalization of cannabis. Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health34 The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) does not encourage or promote cannabis use. CAMH emphasizes that the most effective way of avoiding cannabis-related harms is through not using cannabis, and encourages people to seek treatment where its use has become a problem. Cannabis is not a benign drug. Cannabis use, and in particular frequent and long-term cannabis use, has been associated with negative health and behavioural consequences, including respiratory damage, problems with physical coordination, difficulties with memory and cognition, pre- and post-natal development problems, psychiatric effects, hormone, immune and cardio-vascular system defects, as well as poor work and school performance. The consequences of use by youth and those with a mental disorder are of particular concern. However, most cannabis use is sporadic or experimental and hence not likely to be associated with serious negative consequences. CAMH thus holds the position that the criminal justice system in general, and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) specifically, under which cannabis possession is a criminal offence, has become an inappropriate control mechanism. This conclusion is based on the available scientific knowledge on the effects of cannabis use, the individual consequences of a criminal conviction, the costs of enforcement, and the limited effectiveness of the criminal control of cannabis use. CAMH thus concurs with similar recent calls from many other expert stakeholders who believe that the control of cannabis possession for personal use should be removed from the realm of the CDSA and the criminal law/criminal justice system. While harmful health consequences exist with extensive cannabis use, CAMH believes that the decriminalization of cannabis possession will not lead to its increased use, based on supporting evidence from other jurisdictions that have introduced similar controls. CAMH recommends that a more appropriate legal control framework for cannabis use be put into place that will result in a more effective and efficient control system, produce fewer negative social and individual consequences, and maintain public health and safety. An alternative legal control system for the Canadian context can be chosen from a number of options that have been tried and proven adequate in other jurisdictions. CAMH further recommends that such an alternative framework be explored on a temporary and rigorously evaluated trial basis, and that an appropriate level of funding be provided/maintained for prevention and treatment programs to minimize the prevalence of cannabis use and its associated harms. American Society of Addiction Medicine 35 The Society's 1994 policy which was updated September 2001 recommends the following: 1. National policy should present a comprehensive and coordinated strategy aimed at reducing the harm done to individuals, families and society by the use of all drugs of dependence. 2. Reliance on the distinction between "legal" and "illegal" drugs is a misleading one, since so-called "legal" drugs are illegal for persons under specified ages, or under certain circumstances. 3. Prevention programs should be comprehensively designed to target the entire range of dependence-producing drugs as well as to produce changes in social attitudes. (See ASAM Prevention Statement.) 4. Outreach, identification, referral and treatment programs for all persons suffering from drug dependencies, including alcoholism and nicotine dependence, should be increased in number and type until they are available and accessible in every part of the country to all in need of such services. 5. Persons suffering from the diseases of alcoholism and other drug dependence should be offered treatment rather than punished for their status of dependence. 6. The balance of resources devoted to combatting these problems should be shifted from a predominance of law enforcement to a greater emphasis on treatment and prevention programs, as well as programs to ameliorate those social factors that exacerbate drug dependence and its related problems. 7. Law enforcement measures aimed at interrupting the distribution of illicit drugs should be aimed with the greatest intensity at those causing the most serious acute problems to society. 8. Any changes in laws that would affect access to dependence-producing drugs should be carefully thought out, implemented gradually and sequentially, and scientifically evaluated at each step of implementation, including evaluating the effects on: a. prevalence of use in pregnancy and effects on offspring; b. prevalence rates of alcoholism and other drug dependencies; c. crime, violence and incarceration rates; d. law enforcement and criminal justice costs; e. industrial safety and productivity; f. costs to the health care system; g. family and social disruption; h. other human, social and economic costs. 9. ASAM opposes any changes in law and regulation that would lead to a sudden significant increase in the availability of any dependence-producing drug (outside of a medically-prescribed setting for therapeutic indications). Any changes should be gradual and carefully monitored. 10. ASAM opposes any system of distribution of dependence-producing drugs that would involve physicians in the prescription of such drugs for other than therapeutic or rehabilitative purposes. 11. ASAM supports public policies that would offer treatment and rehabilitation in place of criminal penalties for persons who are suffering from psychoactive substance dependence and whose only offense is possession of a dependence-producing drug for their own use. 12. ASAM supports public policies which offer appropriate treatment and rehabilitation to persons suffering from psychoactive substance dependence who are found guilty of an offense related to that dependence, as part of their sentence. This goal may be attained through a variety of sentencing options, depending upon the nature of the offense. 13. ASAM supports an increase in resources devoted to basic and applied research into the causes, extent and consequences of alcohol and other drug use, problems and dependence, and into methods of prevention and treatment. 14. In addition, scientifically sound research into public policy issues should receive increased support and be given a high priority as an aid in making such decisions. 15. Physicians and medical societies should remain active in the effort to shape national drug policy and should continue to promote a public health approach to alcoholism and other drug dependencies based on scientific understanding of the causes, development and treatment of these diseases. US Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy 32 The Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy (PLNDP) was started in 1997 when 37 senior physicians from virtually every medical society* met and agreed that the "current criminal justice driven approach is not reducing, let alone controlling drug abuse in America." Their extensive review of the literature found: * drug addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, like diabetes or hypertension; * treatment for drug addiction works; * treating addiction saves money; * treating drug addiction restores families and communities; * prevention and education help deter youth from substance abuse, delinquency, crime and incarceration. In follow-up to an extensive review of the literature, their key policy recommendations are: * Reallocate resources toward drug treatment and prevention; * Parity in access to care, treatment benefits, and clinical outcomes; * Reduce the disabling regulation of addiction treatment programs; * Utilize effective criminal justice procedures to reduce supply and demand (e.g. community coalitions, community policing, drug courts); * Expand investments in research and training; * Eliminate the stigma associated with the diagnosis and treatment of drug problems; * Train physicians and (medical) students to be clinically competent in diagnosing and treating drug problems. REFERENCES 1 Mosher JF, Yanagisako KL. Public health, not social warfare: a public health approach to illegal drug policy. J Public Health Policy 1991; 12: 278-323. 2 Precede - proceed model of health promotion. Institute of Health Promotion Research. Available from: http://www.ihpr.ubc.ca/frameset/frset_publicat.htm. Accessed: Nov 27, 2001. 3 World Health Organization. Ottawa charter for health promotion. Ottawa: World Health Organization, 1986. 4 Dean M. UK government rejects advice to update drug laws. Lancet 2000; 355: 1341. 5 Curran WJ. Decriminalization, demythologizing, desymbolizing and deemphasizing marijuana. Am J Public Health. 1972; 62: 1151-1152. 6 Report of the Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry into the non-medical use of drugs. Ottawa, 1972. 7 Anonymous. Deglamorising cannabis. Lancet 1995; 346: 1241. (editorial) 8 Edlaf EM, Paglia A, Ivis FJ, Ialomiteanu A. Nonmedicinal drug use among adolescent students: highlights from the 1999 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey. CMAJ 2000; 162: 1677-1680. 9 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. The 1999 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey - executive summary. Available from: http://www.camh.net/addiction/ont_study_drug_use.html. Accessed: October 15, 2001. 10 MacNeil P, Webster I. Canada's alcohol and other drugs survey 1994: a discussion of the findings. Ottawa: Health Canada, 1997. 11 Single E, Fischer B, Room R, Poulin C, Sawka E, Thompson H, Topp J. Cannabis control in Canada: options regarding possession. Ottawa, Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 1998. Available from: http://www.ccsa.ca/. 12 Hall W. The cannabis policy debate: finding a way forward. CMAJ 2000; 162: 1690-1692. 13 Ashton CH. Pharmacology and effects of cannabis: a brief review. Br J Psychiatr 2001; 178: 101-106. 14 Johns A. Psychiatric effects of cannabis. Br J Psychiatr 2001; 178: 116-122. 15 Farrell M, Ritson B. Br J Psychiatr 2001; 178: 98. 16 Tremblay S. Illicit drugs and crime in Canada. Juristat 1999; 19. 17 Riley D. Drugs and drug policy in Canada: a brief review and commentary. November, 1998. Available from: http://www.parl.gc.ca/37/1/parlbus/commbus/senate/com-e/ill-e/library-e/riley-e.htm. Accessed: October 15, 2001. 18 Erickson PG. The law, social control, and drug policy: models, factors, and processes. Int J Addiction 1993; 28: 1155-1176. 19 Single EW. The impact of marijuana decriminalization: an update. J Public Health Policy 1989; 10: 456-66. 20 MacCoun R. Interpreting Dutch cannabis policy: reasoning by analogy in the legalization debate. Science 1997; 278: 47-52. 21 MacCoun R, Reuter P. Evaluating alternative cannabis regimes. Br J Psychiat 2001; 178: 123-128. 22 Hall W. The recent Australian debate about the prohibition on cannabis use. Addiction 1997; 92: 1109-1115. 23 Centre for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control. HIV/AIDS among injecting drug users in Canada. May 2001. Available from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hpb/lcdc/bah/epi/idus_e.html. Accessed Oct 17, 2001. 24 Hepatitis C - prevention and control : a public health consensus. Can Communic Dis Rep 1999; 25S2. Available from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hpb/lcdc/publicat/ccdr/99vol25/25s2/index.html. Accessed: Oct 17, 2001. 25 F/P/T Advisory Committee on Population Health et al. Reducing the harm associated with injection drug use in Canada: working document for consultation. March 2001. Available from: http://www.aidslaw.ca/Maincontent/issues/druglaws.htm. Accessed: Oct 14, 2001. 26 Single E, Rehm J, Robson L, Van Truong M. The relative risks and etiologic fractions of different causes of death attributable to alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use in Canada. CMAJ 2000: 162: 1669-1675. 27 Marwick C. Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy finds addiction treatment works. JAMA 1999; 279: 1149-1150. 28 Grinspoon L, Bakalar JB. The war on drugs - a peace proposal. N Eng J Med 1994: 330: 357-360. 29 Hankins C. Substance use: time for drug law reform. CMAJ 2000: 162: 1693-1694. 30 National Task Force on HIV, AIDS and Injection Drug Use. HIV/AIDS and injection drug use: a national action plan. Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse and Canadian Public Health Association. May 1997. Available from: http://www.ccsa.ca/docs/HIVAIDS.HTM. Accessed: Oct 15, 2001. 31 Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Injection drug use and HIV/AIDS: legal and ethical issues. Montreal: Network, 1999. 32 Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy. Position paper on drug policy. January 2000. Available from: http://center.butler.brown.edu/plndp/. Accessed: Nov 27, 2001. 33 The Fraser Institute. Sensible solutions to the urban drug problem. 2001. Available from: http://www.fraserinstitute.ca/publications/books/drug_papers/. Accessed: Nov 29, 2001. 34 Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. CAMH Position on the legal sanctions related to cannabis possession/use. April 2000. Available from: www.camh.net/position_papers/cannabis_42000.html. Accessed Oct 9, 2001. 35 American Society of Addiction Medicine. Public policy of ASAM. Adopted 1994. Updated Sept 29, 2001. Available from: www.asam.org. Accessed: Nov 27, 2001. ?? ?? ?? ?? A healthy population...a vibrant medical profession Une population en santé...une profession médicale dynamique A Public Health Perspective on Cannabis and Other Illegal Drugs Ottawa, March 11, 2002 Page 21 Canadian Medical Association
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Review of Controlled Drugs and Substances Act: Canadian Medical Association submission to Health Canada in response to the consultation on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its regulations

https://policybase.cma.ca/en/permalink/policy11114
Date
2014-03-17
Topics
Pharmaceuticals/ prescribing/ cannabis/ marijuana/ drugs
://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-02.pdf http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-03.pdf http
  1 document  
Policy Type
Response to consultation
Date
2014-03-17
Topics
Pharmaceuticals/ prescribing/ cannabis/ marijuana/ drugs
Text
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this brief in response to Health Canada's consultation on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) "regarding any challenges, gaps or suggested improvements." The CMA welcomes the consultation and review of the CDSA and its associated regulations. This is an important legislative framework with direct implications for public health, quality care and patient safety. The CMA's recommendations outlined in this brief aim to establish new measures and mechanisms under the CDSA that would contribute to improved public health and patient safety. The CMA looks forward to the opportunity to discuss these issues in greater detail with Health Canada as this consultation proceeds. Part 1: Supporting a Regulatory Approach that Advances Public Health, Quality Care and Patient Safety As an overarching principle, it is the CMA's position that the modernization of the CDSA legislative and regulatory framework should be guided first and foremost by the objective of improving public health, promoting quality care and enhancing patient safety. In enacting the CDSA and promulgating its regulations, enforcement objectives have been emphasized, as demonstrated by the report on program spending in the National Anti-Drug Strategy Evaluation. The modernization of the CDSA legislative framework offers a significant opportunity to contribute to the greater advancement of public health and patient safety goals by establishing mechanisms that support prevention, treatment and harm reduction. This approach supports the Government of Canada's Throne Speech commitment to address prescription drug abuse as part of the National Anti-Drug Strategy. In 2013, the CMA's General Council, often referred to the Parliament of Canadian Medicine, recommended "that there be an increased emphasis on public health-oriented approaches by regulatory authorities responsible for psychoactive substances." Substance abuse is a complex behaviour influenced by many factors, and a therefore a public health approach to addressing it should incorporate a comprehensive multi-factorial strategy. A public health approach would place an increased focus on preventing drug abuse and misuse; on treatment of addiction and other consequences of misuse; on monitoring, surveillance and research; and on harm reduction. It would seek to ensure the harms associated with enforcement (e.g. crime, disease due to use of dirty needles) are not out of proportion to the direct harms caused by substance abuse. The CMA recommends that the modernization of the CDSA legislative framework focus on enabling and supporting such a public health approach. It should be noted that the substances governed by the CDSA include medications used by patients and prescribed by health care professionals for legitimate therapeutic purposes. We note that the schedules attached to the CDSA do not make a distinction between illicit substances of abuse and prescription medication. For example, Schedule I includes both illicit substances such as heroin, and opioid prescription medicines like oxycodone and hydrocodone. The potential of a drug or medication to cause harm has little if anything to do with its legal status. Therefore, the CMA recommends that as part of the review of the CDSA and its regulations, Health Canada undertake a review of the schedules, including the organization of the schedules, and the listing of substances within each schedule. The purpose of this review is to ensure that: (1) the schedules are up-to-date; (2) the CDSA allows for the incorporation of new illicit substances and prescription medication on the basis of available evidence and in a timely manner; and, (3) the schedules are organized based on risk status, legal status or other consideration. In the following sections, the CMA outlines recommendations that would facilitate the expansion of a public health approach. A) Establish Mechanisms to Address Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse The misuse and abuse of controlled psychoactive prescription medicines, notably opioids such as oxycodone, fentanyl and hydrocodone, is a significant public health and patient safety issue. Canada has the second highest per capita consumption of prescription opioids in the world, after the United States. The abuse and misuse of prescription opioids among vulnerable populations, remains a significant concern. For instance, in 2013 opioids were reported as the third most common drug (after alcohol and marijuana) used by students in Ontario. While accurate data on the prevalence of the misuse of prescription medication among seniors is lacking, the CMA is concerned that as Canada's population ages, an increasing number of seniors will need treatment for harms related to prescription medication use, such as drug interactions, falls due to drowsiness or lack of coordination. Controlled prescription medications are legal products intended for legitimate therapeutic purposes, i.e. to control pain from cancer or terminal illness, or from chronic conditions such as nerve damage due to injury. However, they may also be misused or abused, and addiction may drive some users to illegal behaviour such as doctor-shopping, forging prescribers' signatures, or buying from street dealers. Canada's physicians are deeply concerned about the misuse and abuse of prescription opioid medication for a number of reasons. First, physicians need to assess the condition of the patient who requests the medication, and consider whether its use is clinically indicated and if the benefits outweigh the risks. Secondly, they may need to prescribe treatment for patients who have become addicted to the medication. Finally, they are vulnerable to patients who forge the physician's signature or use other illegal means to obtain prescriptions, or who present with fraudulent symptoms, or plead or threaten when denied the drugs they have requested. The 2014 federal budget promises $44.9 million over 5 years to the National Anti-Drug Strategy to address prescription drug abuse, and CMA believes that this is a positive step. Health Canada, in its role as drug regulator, could use the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to help further this strategy in the following ways: i) Improving the approval, labelling and safety monitoring of controlled substances The CMA recommends that new sections be introduced to the CDSA to require higher levels of regulatory scrutiny for controlled prescription medication, during both the approval process and post-approval surveillance. Specifically, the CDSA should be amended to require: * More stringent pre-approval requirements for controlled prescription medication. Because of their high level of risk, Health Canada could require that they be subject to higher levels of scrutiny than other medications during the review of pre-approval clinical trial results, special post-approval conditions(e.g. formal post-market studies); * Stricter conditions on the marketing of controlled medication by the pharmaceutical industry to health professionals. * Tamper-resistant formulations of prescription opioid medication. New opioid medication or potentially addictive formulations should be tamper-resistant to reduce the potential for misuse or abuse. * Improved patient information and counseling to be offered to prescribers, dispensers, and patients receiving opioid prescriptions. ii) Establishing consistent requirements for prescription monitoring In our brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (see Appendix A), during its study on prescription drug abuse, the CMA encouraged all levels of government to work with one another and health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription monitoring and surveillance. Indeed, all stakeholders who testified before the Committee recognized the importance of prescription monitoring programs in addressing prescription drug abuse. While prescription monitoring programs (PMPs) exist in most provinces, they vary considerably in terms of quality, the nature of the information they require, whether health care practitioners have real-time access, and in the purpose for which the data is collected. Standardization of surveillance and monitoring systems can contribute to addressing the misuse and abuse of prescription medication by: * Allowing health care practitioners to identify fraudulent attempts to obtain a prescription, such as an attempt to fill prescriptions from a number of different providers, at the time the prescription is requested or filled. * Deter interprovincial or jurisdictional fraud, again, by allowing health care practitioners to identify fraudulent attempts at the time the prescription is requested or filled. * Improve professional regulatory bodies' capacity for oversight and intervention, by establishing a mechanism for real-time monitoring. * Finally, help Canada's researchers improve our knowledge of this serious public health concern, identify research priorities, and determine best practices to address crucial issues. Such a system should be compatible with existing electronic medical and pharmacy record systems and with provincial pharmaceutical databases such as that of British Columbia. Participation in prescription monitoring programs should not impose an onerous administrative burden on health care providers. Integration with electronic health records and the widespread use of electronic databases and transmission would go far to minimize the potential burden. The CMA recommends that a new reporting regulation be promulgated under the CDSA that addresses reporting requirements and disclosure requirements of practitioners, manufacturers and other stakeholders, in order to establish consistent standards for prescription monitoring. This regulation should: * Enable inter-jurisdictional accessibility and operability; * Ensure that practitioners have real-time access to the monitoring system; * Enable electronically-based prescription monitoring; and; * Conform to privacy laws, protecting patient confidentiality while enabling the sharing of necessary information. (Privacy concerns are addressed in greater detail in Part 2). B) Supporting harm reduction as a component of a drug strategy The CMA fully endorses harm reduction strategies and tools, including supervised injection sites, and believes that the CDSA should support and enable them. It is the CMA's position that addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious medical condition. Section 56 of the CDSA sets out conditions under which applicants may obtain exemptions from the provisions of the Act. Bill C-2, currently at Second Reading in the House of Commons, proposes new, far reaching, and stringent conditions that must be met by a proponent who is applying to establish a supervised injection site. The CMA maintains that safe injection sites are a legitimate form of treatment for the disease of addiction, that their benefit is supported by a body of research, and that the conditions proposed under Bill C-2 are overly restrictive. In addition, to support harm reduction, the CMA encourages Health Canada to amend section 2 (2) (b) (ii) (B) of the CDSA that states a controlled substance includes "any thing that contains or has on it a controlled substance and that is used or intended or designed for use... in introducing the substance into a human body" in order to enable the important role of safe injection sites. C) Developing clinical knowledge base about the medical use of marijuana The CMA has already made its position on the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations known to Health Canada (see Appendix B). Despite repeated revisions since they were first established in 2001, the regulations do not address CMA's primary concern; that physicians are made gatekeepers for a product whose medical benefits have not been sufficiently researched, and which has not undergone the clinical trial process required for therapeutic products under the Food and Drugs Act. The absence of clinical evidence means that physicians lack scientific information and guidance on the uses, benefits and risks of marijuana when used for medicinal purposes. To address these issues, the CMA recommends that Health Canada invest in scientific research on the medical uses of marijuana. This could include establishing market incentives for Licensed Producers to undertake research, or requiring them to contribute to a research fund administered by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In addition, the CMA encourages the development and dissemination of evidence-based clinical support tools for physicians. Part 2: Ensuring protection of patient privacy In any legislative framework pertaining to patient care, physicians consider protecting the privacy of patient information to be paramount; indeed, privacy, confidentiality and trust are cornerstones of the patient-physician relationship (see Appendix C). For these reasons, the CMA strongly recommends that Health Canada undertake a privacy impact assessment of the existing CDSA and its regulations as well as of future proposed amendments. The CMA encourages Health Canada to make this assessment available to stakeholders as part of its consultation process on this legislative framework. As previously mentioned, the new regulation proposed under Part 1 (A) (ii) above must conform to privacy laws, and protect patient confidentiality while enabling the sharing of necessary information. The CMA is deeply concerned with the search provision under s.31 of the CDSA in which an exception to this broad authority for patient records is mentioned in subsection (1) (c). The CMA is concerned that this exception may not be sufficient to meet the existing privacy laws governing patient information and records, both federally and provincially. As such, the CMA recommends that the CDSA be amended to ensure that patient information and records are exempt from search authorities, consistent with the most stringent privacy laws at the federal and provincial jurisdictions. Part 3: Enabling e-prescribing As part of the review of the CDSA and its associated regulations, Health Canada should assess how this legislative framework may be used to facilitate and support the advancement of e-health, specifically e-prescribing. Electronic health records can support individual physicians or pharmacists to quickly identify potential diversion and double-doctoring, at the point where a prescription is written or filled. The electronic health record also facilitates the sharing of information among health professionals, as well as programs that allow physicians to compare their prescribing practices to those of their peers. For instance, sections of the Benzodiazepines and Other Targeted Substances Regulations, Narcotic Control Regulations, and Precursor Control Regulations, establish the conditions within which pharmacists may accept a prescription. The CMA recommends that these regulations be amended to specifically include electronic prescriptions in addition to verbal and written prescriptions among the forms that may be accepted by a pharmacist. This recommendation is consistent with the joint statement by the CMA and the Canadian Pharmacists Association on e-prescribing (see Appendix D). Health Canada should also ensure that regulatory amendments facilitate prescription monitoring, as discussed in a previous section. Part 4: Establishing a mechanism for changes to scope of practice The New Classes of Prescribers Regulations, promulgated in 2012, grants nurse practitioners, midwives and podiatrists the authority to prescribe controlled substances if their provincial scope of practice laws permit. The CMA's 2012 submission in response to this regulatory change is attached to this brief for information (Appendix E.) In it, the CMA recommended that "A regulatory framework governing prescribing authority, or any other aspect of scope of practice, should always put patient safety first. The primary purpose of scope of practice determination is to meet the health care needs and serve the health interests of patients and the public safely, efficiently, and competently." One of our main concerns at the time was that the more practitioners who could prescribe controlled substances, the greater the potential for the illegal diversion of products to street dealers. This remains a concern for us. Given the significance of scope-of-practice determinations to patient safety and patient care, the CMA strongly recommends that future changes to the scope of practice of a health care practitioner be undertaken only within a defined, transparent evaluation process based on clinical criteria and protection of patient safety. To this end, the CMA strongly recommends the introduction of new clauses to the CDSA and its associated regulations to establish a mechanism that governs future changes to scope of practice. These clauses should require, prior to the implementation of any change: * Demonstration that it will improve public health and patient safety; * Meaningful consultation with professional organizations and regulatory authorities; and, * Support of provincial and territorial ministers of health. Further, the CMA recommends that such a new regulation governing possible future changes to scope of practice require: * That new classes of prescribers have conflict of interest policies; * That new classes of prescribers be incorporated under the prescription monitoring regulation recommended under Part 1 (A) (ii) above; and * That a mandatory five-year review be established for new classes of prescribers. Part 5: Recognizing the authority of physician regulatory colleges As previously mentioned, many controlled substances governed under the CDSA and its associated regulations are prescribed by physicians and other health professionals, for therapeutic purposes. Medicine is a regulated profession, and the colleges of physicians have ultimate authority and responsibility for the oversight of physician practice, including monitoring prescribing activity, investigating practice and when required, taking disciplinary action. In its present form, section 59 of the Narcotic Control Regulations includes a duplicative and redundant provision for oversight and disciplinary action. The CMA strongly recommends that this section be amended to recognize the established authority of physician regulatory colleges for the oversight of the medical profession. Conclusion The CMA welcomes the consultation and review of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its associated regulations. As mentioned before, this submission is not an exhaustive analysis of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act¸ but an initial summary of CMA's position on issues of particular concern to patient safety and public health. This brief outlines numerous opportunities within the CDSA and its associated regulations to establish new measures and mechanisms that would contribute to improved public health and patient safety. In light of the breadth and importance of the issues raised in this review, CMA encourages further consultation and welcomes the opportunity to discuss these issues in greater detail. List of Appendices: * Appendix A: CMA Brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health - The Need for a National Strategy to Address Abuse and Misuse of Prescription Drugs in Canada * Appendix B: CMA Policy Statement - Medical Marijuana * Appendix C: CMA Policy Statement - Principles for the Protection of Patient's Personal Health Information * Appendix D: CMA Policy Statement - Vision for e-Prescribing: a joint statement by the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Pharmacists Association * Appendix E: CMA submission - Response to the proposed New Classes of Practitioners regulations published in the Canada Gazette Part I (Vol. 146, No. 18 - May 5, 2012) Overview of recommendations The CMA recommends that the modernization of the CDSA legislative and regulatory framework should be guided first and foremost by the objective of improving public health, promoting quality care and enhancing patient safety. The CMA recommends that as part of the review of the CDSA and its regulations, Health Canada undertake a review of the schedules, including the organization of the schedules, and the listing of substances within each schedule. The CMA recommends that new sections be introduced to the CDSA to require higher levels of regulatory scrutiny as part of the approval and post-approval process for prescription opioid medication. The CMA recommends that a new reporting regulation be promulgated under the CDSA that addresses reporting requirements and disclosure requirements of practitioners, manufacturers and other stakeholders in order to establish consistent standards for prescription monitoring. To support harm reduction, the CMA recommends an amendment to section 2 (b) (ii) of the CDSA, which states a controlled substance includes "any thing that contains or has on it a controlled substance and that is used or intended or designed for use... in introducing the substance into a human body". The CMA recommends that Health Canada invest in scientific research on the medical uses of marijuana. This could include establishing market incentives that require Licensed Producers to undertake research, or requiring them to contribute to a research fund administered by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In addition, the CMA encourages the development and dissemination of evidence-based clinical support tools for physicians. The CMA recommends that Health Canada undertake a privacy impact assessment of the existing CDSA and its regulations as well as future proposed amendments, and provide this assessment to stakeholders as part of its consultation process on this legislative framework. The CMA recommends that the CDSA, specifically s.31 (1) (c), be amended to ensure that patient information and records are exempt from search authorities, consistent with the most stringent privacy laws at the federal and provincial jurisdictions. The CMA recommends that the CDSA and its regulations be amended to specifically include electronic prescriptions in addition to verbal and written prescriptions among the forms that may be accepted by a pharmacist, including sections within the Benzodiazepines and Other Targeted Substances Regulations, Narcotic Control Regulations, and Precursor Control Regulations. The CMA recommends the introduction of new clauses to the CDSA and its associated regulations to establish a mechanism that governs future changes to scope of practice, based on the introduction of a new regulation governing changes to scope of practice that will require, prior to the implementation of any change: * Demonstration of public health and patient safety improvement; * Meaningful consultation with professional organizations and regulatory authorities; and, * Support of provincial and territorial ministers of health. The CMA recommends that the new mechanism of the CDSA legislative framework governing possible future changes to scope of practice require: * That new classes of prescribers have conflict of interest policies; * That new classes of prescribers be incorporated under the prescription monitoring regulation recommended under Part 1 (A) (ii) above; and * That a mandatory five-year review be established for new classes of prescribers. The CMA strongly recommends that s.59 of the Narcotic Control Regulations be amended to recognize the established authority of physician regulatory colleges for the oversight of the medical profession.
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