The Canadian Medical Association appreciates this opportunity to respond to Health Canada's public consultation on the proposed regulatory approach for the proposed Cannabis Act, Bill C-45.
Our approach to cannabis is grounded in broad public health policy. It includes promotion of health and prevention of drug dependence and addiction; access to assessment, counselling and treatment services; and a harm reduction perspective. The CMA endorsed the Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines1 and has expressed these views in our recommendations to the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation,2 recommendations regarding Bill C-453 and submission on the cannabis excise duty framework.4
Therefore, we are limiting our response to those consultation questions that pertain to that approach and relate to our expertise and knowledge base. We are providing responses to questions 9, 10 and 11.
Packaging and labelling
9. What do you think about the proposed rules for the packaging and labelling of cannabis products? Do you think additional information should be provided on the label?
The CMA concurs with the proposed regulations. Packaging and labelling of cannabis products should include measures such as:
a requirement for plain and standard packaging,5 6
prohibition of the use of appealing flavours and shapes,
a requirement for adequate content and potency labelling,
a requirement for comprehensive health warnings,
a requirement for childproof packaging, and
a requirement that the content in a package should not be sufficient to cause an overdose.
Education is required to develop awareness among Canadians of the health, social and economic harms of cannabis use especially in young people. In that regard, the regulations with respect to packaging and labelling should be viewed as an opportunity to maximize educational opportunities. Package inserts must outline and reinforce the health risks involved; they must also be designed by governments and health professionals, not cannabis producers or distributors.
Package inserts should include:
information on securing the product in the home to prevent access by youth and children,
recommendations not to drive or to work with hazardous chemicals or operate equipment while using the contents of the package,
information on the health and social consequences (including legal penalties) of providing cannabis to those under a designated minimum age for purchasing, and
contact information for hotlines for poison control and for crisis support.
In addition, the regulations for the marketing and advertising of cannabis should use an approach similar to those in place for tobacco and cigarettes.7 8 9
Cannabis for medicinal purposes
10. What do you think about the proposed approach to providing cannabis for medical purposes? Do you think there should be any specific additional changes?
CMA maintains its position that there should be one system with one set of regulations for medical and recreational cannabis.
The CMA believes that once the Act and regulations are in force, there will be no need for two systems. Cannabis will be available for those who wish to use it for medicinal purposes, either with or without medical authorization, and for those who wish to use it for other purposes. The medical profession does not need to authorize use once cannabis is legalized, especially given that cannabis has not undergone Health Canada's usual pharmaceutical regulatory approval process, and its anticipated removal as a controlled substance from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Those who have experienced a two-system approach in Washington and Colorado have remarked on the challenges of having dual standards and regulations (e.g., purchase and possession quantities, taxation levelsa 4) and the contribution to the grey market.b 11
Consistent with the advice it received from the Task Force on Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis,12 the government intends on pursuing both a medicinal and retail cannabis system at this time. In this instance the CMA supports regulations for each system being as similar as possible. Furthermore, the CMA strongly supports the need for appropriate and relevant data collection (e.g., interaction of individuals between the medicinal and retail systems) to provide the necessary evidence for the future legislative review, anticipated in three years' time. The CMA would expect to be involved and looks forward to participating in the criteria development, evaluation and performance review of the systems.
Sale of health products containing cannabis
11. What do you think about the proposed restrictions on the sale of health products containing cannabis authorized by Health Canada? Do they strike an appropriate balance between facilitating access to safe, effective and high quality health products, and deterring illegal activities and youth access?
Health products include prescription health products, non-prescription drugs, natural health products, cosmetics and medical devices. Although all these products are regulated by Health Canada, they undergo different levels of scrutiny for safety, efficacy and quality, and in some cases industry does not need to provide scientific evidence to support the claims made on the label. The level of proof required to obtain a Drug Identification Number (DIN) for prescription drugs is considerably higher than the level of proof required for a Natural Product Number (NPN); rigorous scientific evidence is needed for a DIN but not for a NPN. Consumers generally do not know about this distinction, believing that Health Canada has applied the same level of scrutiny to the health claims made for every product. As a result, consumers presently do not have sufficient information to choose appropriate products.
Health Canada launched a consultation in 201613 on the approval process of the categories of non-prescription drugs, natural health products and cosmetics ("self-care products") with the intent of modernizing the present regulations. The CMA fully supports this work and hopes it will be brought to a timely conclusion.14
With respect to all health products, the CMA supports a risk-based approach in which higher risk products, for example, those for which health claims are made, must meet a higher standard of review. Rigorous scientific evidence is needed to support claims of health benefits and to identify potential risks and adverse reactions.
All health products containing cannabis must meet a high standard of review for safety, efficacy and quality, equivalent to that of the approval of prescription drugs (e.g., Marinol(r) and Sativex(r)), to protect Canadians from further misleading claims. Prescription drugs are subject to Health Canada's pharmaceutical regulatory approval process, based on each drug's specific indication, dose, route of administration and target population. Health claims need to be substantiated via a strong evidentiary process.
With respect to the sale of cannabis products to youth, the CMA recommends the adoption of strict controls as outlined in the proposed regulations; as per the proposal, "All health products would be subject to provisions that control against practices that may appeal to youth, or the use of testimonials, real or fictional characters or animals, or lifestyle branding. Tamper-evident and child-resistant packaging requirements would also apply."15 We also support the additional precautions around medical devices, especially those sold to young persons.
The CMA urges caution around the exemption for paediatric formulations that would allow for traits that would "appeal to youth." The CMA understands that these products, used under strict health professional supervision, should be child friendly, for example, regarding palatability, but we do not support marketing strategies that would suggest their use is recreational (e.g., producing them in candy or animal formats).
There will be a need for careful monitoring of the health products released in the market and the health claims made. Experience has shown that regulations can and will be circumvented, and these activities will have to be addressed. Various examples have been reported in the media highlighting the need to be vigilant, as illustrated in Switzerland regarding health and other products with cannabis and high cannabidiol content.16 17
a The CMA supports similar taxation treatment of cannabis products for medical and non-medical purposes.
b Grey market refers to products produced or distributed in ways that are unauthorized or unregulated, but not strictly illegal.
1 Fischer B, Russell C, Sabioni P, et al. Lower-risk cannabis use guidelines: A comprehensive update of evidence and recommendations. AJPH 2017 Aug;107(8):e1-e12. Available: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2017.303818?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed& (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
2 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Legalization, regulation and restriction of access to marijuana. CMA submission to the Government of Canada - Task Force on cannabis, legalization and regulation. Ottawa: The Association; 2016 Aug 29. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/submissions/2016-aug-29-cma-submission-legalization-and-regulation-of-marijuana-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
3 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Bill C-45: The Cannabis Act. Submission to the House of Commons Health Committee. Ottawa: The Association; 2017 Aug 18. Available: http://www.cma.corp/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-09.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
4 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Excise duty framework for cannabis products. Submission to the Government of Canada consultation on the proposed excise duty framework for cannabis products. Ottawa: The Association; 2017 Dec 7. Available: http://www.cma.corp/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2018-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
5 Vardavas C, Filippidis F, Ward B, et al. Plain packaging of tobacco products in the European Union: an EU success story? European Respiratory Journal 2017;50:1701232 Available: http://erj.ersjournals.com/content/erj/50/5/1701232.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
6 Torjesen I. Standardised packs cut adult smoking as well as discouraging young people, evidence indicates BMJ 2015;350:h935. Available: http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h935 (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
7 Hughes N, Arora M, Grills N. Perceptions and impact of plain packaging of tobacco products in low and middle income countries, middle to upper income countries and low-income settings in high-income countries: a systematic review of the literature. BMJ Open 2016;6:e010391. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010391. Available: http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/bmjopen/6/3/e010391.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
8 White V, Williams T, Wakefield M. Has the introduction of plain packaging with larger graphic health warnings changed adolescents' perceptions of cigarette packs and brands? Tob Control 2015;24:ii42-ii49. Available: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/tobaccocontrol/24/Suppl_2/ii42.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
9 Smith C, Kraemer J, Johnson A, Mays D. Plain packaging of cigarettes: do we have sufficient evidence? Risk Management and Healthcare Policy 2015;8:21-30. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4396458/pdf/rmhp-8-021.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
10 Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA). Cannabis regulation: Lessons learned in Colorado and Washington State. Ottawa: CCSA; 2015 Nov. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Cannabis-Regulation-Lessons-Learned-Report-2015-en.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 18).
11 Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation. A framework for the legalization and regulation of cannabis in Canada: final report. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2016. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/healthy-canadians/migration/task-force-marijuana-groupe-etude/framework-cadre/alt/framework-cadre-eng.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 18).
12 Government of Canada. Consultation on the regulation of self-care products. Ottawa: Government of Canada; n/d. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-regulation-self-care-products.html (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
13 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Regulation of self-care products in Canada. Ottawa: The Association; 2016. Available: http://www.cma.corp/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-11.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
14 Health Canada. Proposed approach to the regulation of cannabis [consultation]). Ottawa: Health Canada; 2017 Nov. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/documents/programs/consultation-proposed-approach-regulation-cannabis/proposed-approach-regulation-cannabis.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
15 Knodt M. In Switzerland, high-CBD cannabis being sold legally as 'Tobacco Substitute'. Seattle: Leafly; 2018. Available: https://www.leafly.com/news/politics/switzerland-high-cbd-cannabis-sold-legally-tobacco-substitute (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
16 Wiley C. Could a legal quirk bring cannabis tourism to Switzerland? The Telegraph 2017 Jul 28;Travel Section. Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/switzerland/articles/cannabis-tourism-has-arrived-in-switzerland/ (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide its comments with respect to the Government of Canada's consultation on the Proposed Excise Duty Framework for Cannabis Products published November 10.1
In the move towards the legalization and regulation of cannabis, there are many economic interests at play; private corporations and different levels of government stand to benefit greatly with sales and considerable tax revenue.2 It is essential that the federal and provincial/territorial governments be held accountable to the public health and safety objectives set out for the new regime for legal access to cannabis, particularly that of protecting children and youth.3 It is fundamental that commercialization is rigorously controlled through taxation, regulation, monitoring and advertising controls.
Final pricing must be such as to discourage the illegal production and trafficking of cannabis. However, a balance must be found with the use of taxation and pricing levers to discourage use. Revenues need to be clearly earmarked to cover the health and social costs of legalization. In some U.S. jurisdictions, for example, some of the revenue is directed to recovering the costs of regulatory programs as well as in substance use treatment programs, and for social programs.
Most of the future tax revenues should be redistributed to the provinces and territories. This is because they have jurisdiction over services that will likely feel the impact with legalization, such as health care, education, social and other services, as well as enforcement of legislation and regulations. A public health approach to legalization will emphasize prevention, education and treatment initiatives which require adequate and reliable funding. It will also require strong surveillance and monitoring activities to adjust measures should unintended harms be detected. Resources need to be promptly available to address potential negative impacts.
CMA recommends that the revenue resulting from the taxation of cannabis production and sales be earmarked to address health and social harms of cannabis use and its commercialization, in line with a public health approach to the legalization of cannabis.
The proposal states that "Any cannabis products sold under the proposed Cannabis Act for medical purposes will be subject to the duty rates and conditions of the excise duty framework, which will become applicable as per the transitional rules (...) Cannabis products that are produced by an individual (or a designated person) for the individual's own medical purposes in accordance with the proposed Cannabis Act will not be subject to the excise duty. Seeds and seedlings used in this production will be subject to duty."1
The CMA is supportive of similar taxation treatment of cannabis products, regardless of whether they are used for medical or non-medical purposes.
The CMA has long called for more research to better understand potential therapeutic indications of cannabis, as well as its risks.4 5 Physicians recognize that some individuals suffering from terminal illness or chronic disease for which conventional therapies have not been effective may obtain relief with cannabis used for medical purposes. However, clinical evidence of medical benefits is limited and there is very limited guidance for the therapeutic use, including indications, potency, interactions with medications and adverse effects. Health Canada does not approve of cannabis as a medicine, as it has not gone through the approvals required by the regulatory process to be a pharmaceutical. It is important that there be support for cannabis research in order to develop products that can be held to pharmaceutical standards, as is the case with dronabinol (Marinol(r)), nabilone (Cesamet(r)) and THC/CBD (Sativex(r)).
The experience of legalization for non-medical use in Colorado and Washington has shown that two separate regimes with distinct regulations can be very difficult to enforce given the different standards.6 A lower tax rate on cannabis for medical use could potentially provide an incentive for people to seek a medical authorization, and that was observed initially in Colorado.7
The CMA recommends that the same tax rates be applied to the production and sales of both the medical and the non-medical use of cannabis products.
The move towards the legalization and regulation of cannabis will require a balanced approach to discourage the illegal production and trafficking of cannabis while also using taxation and pricing levers to discourage use. Much of the revenues raised should be redistributed to the provinces and territories to enable them to cover the health and social costs of legalization.
A public health approach to legalization will emphasize prevention, education, treatment and surveillance initiatives which requires adequate and reliable funding.
1 Department of Finance Canada. Proposed excise duty framework for cannabis products. Ottawa: Department of Finance Canada; 2017. Available: http://www.fin.gc.ca/n17/data/17-114_1-eng.asp (accessed 2017 Dec 05).
2 Sen A, Wyonch R. Don't (over) tax that joint, my friend. Intelligence MEMOS. Ottawa: CD Howe Institute; 2017 Jul 19. Available: https://www.cdhowe.org/sites/default/files/blog_Anindya%20and%20Rosalie_0719.pdf (accessed 2017 Dec 06).
3 Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation. Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Ministry of Health. Toward the legalization, regulation and restriction of access to marijuana. Discussion paper. Ottawa: Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat; 2016. Available: http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/health-system-systeme-sante/consultations/legalization-marijuana-legalisation/alt/legalization-marijuana-legalisation-eng.pdf (accessed 2017 Dec 05).
4 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). A public health perspective on cannabis and other illegal drugs. CMA Submission to the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs. Ottawa: CMA; 2002. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/cannabis.pdf (accessed 2017 Dec 05).
5 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Medical Marijuana. CMA Policy. Ottawa: CMA; 2011. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/PD11-02-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Dec 05).
6 Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA). Cannabis regulation: Lessons learned in Colorado and Washington State. Ottawa: CCSA; 2015. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Cannabis-Regulation-Lessons-Learned-Report-2015-en.pdf (accessed 2017 Dec 05).
7 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Legalized cannabis: Fiscal considerations. Ottawa: Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer; 2016. Available: http://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/web/default/files/Documents/Reports/2016/Legalized%20Cannabis/Legalized%20Canabis%20Fiscal%20Considerations_EN.pdf (accessed 2017 Dec 05).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada’s consultation on new and innovative ideas on how to further strengthen the federal government’s health-focussed approach to substance use issues through the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS)
What sorts of circumstances do you see within your networks, communities or in society that you think contribute to problematic substance use?
There are multiple factors that contribute to problematic substance use. It is a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments. However, using the social determinants as a framework, most health promotion and prevention efforts will take place outside of the traditional health and medical care services. .
Many Canadians face barriers in their physical, social and economic environments which can contribute to problematic substance use, and certain populations are at higher risk given these circumstances. For example, early childhood is a critical time in the social, emotional, cognitive and physical development of a person. Experiences in early life can ‘get under the skin’, changing the ways that genes are expressed. Negative experiences such as poverty or family or parental violence can have significant impacts on this important period of development.
What is necessary is a coordinated effort across government sectors to ensure that all policy decisions serve to increase opportunities for health. Improving population health and reducing inequities should be an overall objective for all governments in Canada.
Have you seen or experienced programs, practices or models at the local or regional level that could be expanded, or implemented more broadly, to improve circumstances or social determinants of health that influence substance use?
Income is critical to individual health and is closely linked to many of the other social determinants of health. These include but are not limited to: education, employment, early childhood development, housing, social exclusion, and physical environment. Adequate consideration must be given to the social and economic determinants of health, factors such as income and housing that have a major impact on health outcomes. Minimizing poverty should be a top priority.
In 2015, the CMA passed a resolution endorsing the concept of a basic income guarantee, which is a cash transfer from government to citizens not tied to labour market participation. It ensures sufficient income to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of employment status. A basic income guarantee has the potential to alleviate or even eliminate poverty. It has the potential to reduce the substantial, long-term social consequences of poverty, including higher crime rates and fewer students achieving success in the educational system.
Drug use must not be treated with a criminal justice approach, which does not address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use. More investments need to be made in prevention, harm reduction and treatment, keeping individuals out of the criminal justice system. Drug use is a complex issue, and collaboration among health and public safety professionals, and society at large, is essential.
What needs to change to make sure that opioid medications are being provided and used appropriately, based on the needs of each patient?
Policy makers must recognize that prescription opioids are an essential tool in the alleviation of pain and suffering, particularly in palliative and cancer care. Doctors support patients in the management of acute and chronic pain, as well as problematic substance use, and as such have long been concerned about the harms associated with opioid use.
Treatment options and services for both problematic substance use as well as pain management are woefully under-resourced in Canada. Experts believe that improved access to specialized pain treatment could reduce inappropriate use of pain medications. Current best practices in pain management include care by an interprofessional team that could include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and other health professionals; non-pharmaceutical interventions such as therapy for trauma and social pain, social supports and coping strategies; appropriate pharmaceutical prescription options, covered by provincial formularies; and a focus on patient participation and empowerment.12 Availability and access of these critical resources varies by jurisdiction and region. The federal government should prioritize the expansion of these services.
It is also important to support clinicians in their practice. The 2017 Opioid Prescribing Guidelines need to be kept current through ongoing funding. Physicians require tools, including those that facilitate monitoring of effectiveness and tolerance by tracking pain and physical function; screening for past and current substance use; screening for depression; and, tapering of problematic or ineffective doses.
How can we make sure that those who require prescription opioids to manage their pain have access to them, without judgement or discrimination?
Governments need to incorporate the identification and elimination of stigma as a quality of care indicator in the ongoing monitoring of health system performance at all levels. They also need to implement and evaluate national public awareness and education strategies to counteract the stigma associated with substance use issues as well as enforcing legislation and regulations to guard against discrimination against people with mental and substance use issues.
Health professionals need to have access to education on pain management and treatment of problematic substance use, recognizing both issues as serious medical conditions for which there are effective treatments.
Which kinds of messages would work best to help Canadians understand the serious harms that can result from stigma around substance use?
A recent report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) and Public Safety Canada cited stigma as “an enormous barrier to individuals seeking and maintaining treatment.” Even though there is broad recognition that we are in a public health crisis, until very recently the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy was heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach rather than a public health approach with an emphasis on enforcement, as opposed to prevention, treatment and harm reduction.8 This has serious implications in how society views people who use drugs. As noted in the CCSA-Public Safety report, “Language matters. Speak about people first, with compassion and respect.”13
A stigma reduction strategy must be core to the activities of the federal government. Stigma involves thoughts, emotions and behaviours; thus, a comprehensive approach includes interventions to target each of these dimensions at both the individual and population level. The strategy should include aspects of:
* Public awareness and education to facilitate understanding about the importance of early diagnosis, treatment, recovery and prevention;
* Enhanced provider/student education and support;
* Policy analysis and modification of discriminatory legislation;
* Support for a strong voluntary sector to voice the concerns of patients and their families;
* Exposure to positive spokespeople (e.g. prominent Canadians) who have mental illness and/or addiction in order to highlight success stories;
* Researching stigma.
How can we best act to reduce stigma across the country?
Engagement with people who use drugs to help them share their stories and experiences with stigma with the public
What would you recommend to improve substance use treatment services in Canada?
This challenge requires a complex and multifaceted solution; and to further this aim, Canada needs a comprehensive national strategy to address the harms associated with psychoactive drugs in Canada, whether illegal or prescription-based, complementing existing strategies to address the harms associated with the other two legal drugs - alcohol and tobacco. This comprehensive approach is necessary, as isolated measures can have unintended consequences, such as under-medicating people that require a medical treatment or constraining people to seek illegal drugs as an option when medications are made tamper-resistant. One of the fundamental principles of health care is that it be patient centred.11 CMA defines patient-centred care as “seamless access to the continuum of care in a timely manner … that takes into consideration the individual needs and preferences of the patient and his/her family and treats the patient with respect and dignity.”
It is essential that patients be core members of the health care team, working with health care providers to address their individual needs, preferences and aspirations and to seek their personal paths to well-being. Physicians and other health professionals can help patients make choices about their treatment and can provide information and support to patients and their families as they seek to cope with the effects of problematic use and live functional lives. The health care provider community needs tools to assist in the reduction of stigma, access to resources and supportive environments.
What obstacles or barriers do people face when they want to access treatment in Canada?
Obstacles to treatment include the lack of publicly-funded treatment centres, access to locations for remote areas, limited number of beds available, the cost of private treatment (lack of insurance), and stigma. The CMA supports the enhancement of access to options for treatment that address different needs.12 Treatment programs must be coordinated and patient-centred, and address physical, psychological, social and spiritual circumstances. For example, it is important that treatment programs be culturally relevant for Indigenous communities.
In addition to current harm reduction initiatives – such as supervised consumption sites, needle exchange programs – what other harm reduction services should governments consider implementing in Canada?
There is a dire need to address harm reduction in prisons. Even back in 2005, the CMA recommended to the Correctional Service of Canada that it develop, implement and evaluate a pilot needle exchange program in prison(s) under its jurisdiction. These services are not widespread and accessible to prison populations. In Canada, people in prison face far greater risk of HIV and hepatitis C infection because they are denied access to sterile injection equipment as a harm reduction strategy.
Hospitals need to incorporate harm reduction strategies as well, allowing people who use drugs to access much needed health services.
How can we better bring public health and law enforcement together to explore ways to reduce the cycle of involvement for people who use substances with the criminal justice system?
Training for police and other frontline criminal justice and corrections workers in how to interact with people with substance use issues is essential. The CMA believes that the government must take a broad public health policy approach. 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.13
The CMA recognized that a blanket prohibition of possession for teenagers and young adults would not reflect current reality or a harm reduction approach. The possibility that a young person might incur a lifelong criminal record for periodic use or possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use means that the long-term social and economic harms of cannabis use can be disproportionate to the drug's physiological harm.
What further steps can the federal government take to better address current regulation and enforcement priorities, such as addressing organized drug crime and the dangerous illegal drugs like fentanyl being brought into Canada?
The federal government must continue to work closely with the RCMP, local and provincial law enforcement agencies, Canada Post, the Canadian Border Services Agency, Crown attorneys, the Canadian military, and international health officials and law enforcement agencies to address this issue. This topic was covered in the recent CCSA/Public Safety Canada report.10
Recognizing Indigenous rights and self-determination, how can all governments work together to address the high rates of problematic substance use faced by some Indigenous communities?
Difficulties in access are particularly acute for Canada's Indigenous peoples. Many live in communities with limited access to health care services, sometimes having to travel hundreds of miles to access care. Additionally, there are jurisdictional challenges; many fall through the cracks between the provincial and federal health systems.
While geography is a significant barrier for Indigenous peoples, it is not the only one. Indigenous peoples living in Canada's urban centres also face difficulties. Poverty, social exclusion and discrimination can be barriers to needed health care. Of all federal spending on indigenous programs and services only 10% is allocated to urban Aboriginals. This means that Aboriginals living in urban areas are unable to access programs such as Aboriginal head start, or alcohol and drug services, which would be available if they were living on reserve. Further, even when care is available it may not be culturally appropriate.
Canada's indigenous peoples tend to be over-represented in populations most at risk and with the greatest need for care, making the lack of access a much greater issue for their health status. It is important that problematic substance use programs be culturally relevant for Indigenous communities.
It is clear that the First Nations and Inuit peoples of Canada experience mental illness, problematic substance use and poor mental health at rates exceeding that of other Canadians.11 Individual, community and population level factors contribute to this including socioeconomic status, social environment, child development, nutrition, maternal health, culture and access to health services. The urgent need to work with these communities and identify the structures and interventions to reduce the burden of mental illness and substance use is critical to the health and wellness and future of First Nations and Inuit peoples.
Enhanced federal capacity should be created through First Nations and Inuit Health that will provide increased funding and support for First Nations and Inuit community health strategies. The establishment of a working groups comprised of First Nations and Inuit health experts and accountable to First Nations and Inuit leadership is essential for the success of this initiative. Both expert and resource supports are integral elements to facilitate and encourage culturally appropriate strategies and programming in these communities.
What can we learn from Indigenous approaches to problematic substance use, such as using holistic approaches, that may help inform activities under the CDSS?
The federal government must consult First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representatives to develop programs that are culturally relevant and appropriate for Indigenous communities.
How can governments, and the health, social, and law enforcement sectors design more effective substance use policies and programs for at-risk populations?
The government must identify and consult those communities and populations most at risk. This includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representatives, community advocates, municipalities, and provincial and local public health officers. Data that describes rates of use and issues specific to each at risk group is important to be able to better understand and address needs.
What are effective policies and programs to help improve access to prevention, treatment, and harm reduction services for at-risk populations?
There are innovative approaches to address the needs of high-volume users as well as at-risk populations. As many of these involve greater integration between health and the community sector and attention to issues not traditionally funded through health care payment systems, there is a need to provide access to funds to enable these innovations to continue and be spread across the country.
A targeted, integrated approach to identify communities in need is required and this must be based on reliable community data (i.e., meaningful use of patient data) which can be used to integrate resources to improve health status. For example, the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network (CPCSSN) is Canada's first multi-disease electronic medical records (EMR) surveillance and research system that allows family physicians, epidemiologists and researchers from across the country to better understand and manage chronic care conditions for their patients. Health information is collected from EMRs in the offices of participating primary care providers (e.g. family physicians) for the purposes of improving the quality of care for Canadians suffering from chronic and mental health conditions and three neurologic conditions including Alzheimer's and related dementias. CPCSSN makes it possible to securely collect and report on vital information from Canadians' health records to improve the way these chronic diseases and neurologic conditions are managed (http://cpcssn.ca/).
What urgent gaps related to substance use (in terms of data, surveillance, and/or research) need to be addressed in Canada?
Improvements are being made in the collection of data in Canada. This is crucial to be able to assess the harms and track the trends and impact of the introduction of policy changes.12 As well, the government must continue to improve the ability of the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Institute of Health Information, the chief coroners of Canada and related agencies to collect, analyze and report data.
One such program is the surveillance system in the United States called RADARS (Researched Abuse, Diversion and Addiction-Related Surveillance system) that is “a surveillance system that collects product-and geographically-specific data on abuse, misuse, and diversion of prescription drugs.” It surveys data involving opioids including poison control centres, treatment programs, on the “illicit acquisition or distribution of prescription opioids, stimulants, and other prescription drugs of interest from entities investigating drug diversion cases,” among other opioid-related issues.
The CMA has recommended that all levels of government work with one another and with health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription monitoring. As a first step, the CMA recommends the establishment of consistent national standards for prescription monitoring.
Prescription Monitoring Programs (PMP) should be compatible with existing electronic medical and pharmacy record systems and with provincial pharmaceutical databases. Participation in prescription monitoring programs should not impose an onerous administrative burden on health care providers. PMPs should not deter physicians from using controlled medications when necessary. Further, PMPs are a valuable component in addressing the gaps related to substance use.
How can we use research tools to better identify emerging substance use issues as early as possible?
See above response to question 18 - “RADARS”
Government of Canada. Consultation on strengthening Canada’s approach to substance use issues. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-strengthening-canada-approach-substance-use-issues.html (accessed 2018 Sep 5).
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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.
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.