The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to Health Canada in response to the publication of the Notice of Intent to restrict the marketing and advertising of opioids.1 The CMA is very concerned with the high rates of overdose deaths due to opioids2 and supports a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to address this public health crisis.3
As part of the Government of Canada's strategy, the Minister of Health's 2017 mandate letter committed to "consult with provinces, territories, and professional regulatory bodies to introduce appropriate prescribing guidelines to curb opioid misuse, ensure prescriptions are appropriately tracked in a consistent and patient-centred way, and increase transparency in the marketing and promotion of therapies."4 Health Canada is proposing to further restrict drug manufacturers' advertising of opioids and is consulting on the scope and intent of the restrictions. The Food and Drugs Act defines advertisement as "any representation by any means for the purpose of promoting, directly or indirectly, the sale of any drug or device".5
Opioids are important therapeutic tools and serve legitimate purposes, when prescribed in an appropriate manner with proper assessment, and as part of a comprehensive therapeutic strategy and monitoring. These medications have been essential in areas such as palliative and cancer care and have contributed to the alleviation of suffering.3 Any measures to address advertising must not restrict appropriate access. Limiting access without appropriate alternatives and careful tapering can lead to undue suffering and seeking of drugs, potentially tainted, on the illegal market.
However, of great concern, opioid dispensing levels have been shown to be strongly correlated with increased mortality, morbidity and treatment admissions for substance use.6,7 Many patients were prescribed these medications and developed dependence.8
Since the 1990s, opioids have been recommended for longer-term treatment of chronic non-cancer pain, and have become widely used due in part to aggressive promotion and marketing for this indication.9,10 However, there is evidence for pain relief in the short term but insufficient evidence regarding maintenance of pain relief over longer periods of time, or for improved physical function.11,12,13 There was also a concerted effort by industry to minimize the risk of addiction in the use of opioids for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain. While stating that the risk of addiction was less than one percent, many studies have shown that the risk varies from 0 to 50% depending on the criteria used and sub population studied.14 Marketing significantly influences the type and amount of opioids consumed.15 Substantial tension exists between the competitive pressures that manufacturers face to expand product sales and support for limited, evidence-based use of most cost-effective available alternatives.16
Choices made by prescribers are subject to a number of influences, including education (undergraduate, residency and continuing); availability of useful point of care information; drug marketing and promotion; patient preferences and participation, and drug cost and coverage.17 Important contributing factors for the increase in opioid prescriptions are also the lack of supports and incentives for the treatment of complex cases, including availability and funding for treatment options for pain and addictions. Alternate approaches to pain management require more time with patients. Prescriptions also increased due to the availability of new, highly potent opioid drugs.18,19 Addressing advertising is only one component of the issue, and significant efforts need to be made to address issues such as access to alternatives for pain management and treatment of addiction.
Presently, advertising of opioids is prohibited to the public, and only permitted to health care professionals if the claims are consistent with the terms of market authorization by Health Canada. Pharmaceutical industry's marketing practices to health care practitioners "can take many forms of direct and indirect activities and incentives, including, for example, manufacturer-sponsored presentations at conferences, continuing education programs, advertisements in medical journals, and personal visits from sales representatives. It can also include use of promotional brochures, fees for research, consulting or speaking, reimbursement for travel and hospitality expenses to attend industry-sponsored events, and gifts of meals, equipment, and medical journals and texts."1 As well, industry has sponsored advocacy organizations dedicated to the treatment of pain and key opinion leaders.15,20 Studies have shown that marketing influences prescribing patterns.21
Initiatives to regulate advertising and the promotion of prescription drugs have come from industry, nongovernmental organizations and government. The pharmaceutical industry itself is voluntarily self-regulated in Canada through the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board (PAAB), pre-clearing marketing initiatives based on a Code of Advertising.22 The CMA recommends that marketing initiatives could be vetted for accuracy and truthfulness through a pre-clearance mechanism such as PAAB.
Faced with multiple legal challenges in the U.S., some opioid manufacturers have limited marketing, however, such measures had not been taken in Canada. The federal government has a complaints-based system and hasn't been proactive in the regulation and monitoring of advertising and marketing of opioids.
In recently published regulations amending the Food and Drug Regulations,23 the Minister of Health can require companies to develop and implement risk management plans, which include the preclearance of opioid-related materials to be provided to health care professionals. Product information prepared by manufacturers, summarizing scientific evidence on effects and setting out conditions for use, as well as promotional activities are subject to regulatory approval. The authority conferred to the Minister has the objective of allowing Health Canada to "appropriately monitor, quantify, characterize, and mitigate the risks associated with post-market use" of opioids. CMA supports such actions. As Van Zee has noted in the case of the United States, "modifications of the promotion and marketing of controlled drugs by the pharmaceutical industry and an enhanced capacity of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate and monitor such promotion can have a positive impact on public health".14 This approach would confer a similar benefit for Canada in that, if effective, could contribute to unbiased, evidence-based prescribing.
There are important guidelines and standards in place, developed by physicians, to guide relationships with the pharmaceutical industry. CMA's "Guidelines for Physicians in Interactions with Industry"24 were developed as a resource tool both for physicians, medical students and residents, as well as medical organizations, to support decisions as to appropriate relationships with industry, in conjunction with CMA's Code of Ethics.25 In summary, physicians have a responsibility to ensure that their interaction with the pharmaceutical industry is in keeping with their primary obligation to their patients and duties to society, and to avoid situations of conflict of interest where possible, appropriately managing these situations when necessary.
These guidelines include principles for continuing medical education and continuing professional development (CME/CPD) and are the basis for the National Standard for Support of Accredited CPD Activities, developed by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC), the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the Collège des médecins du Québec. According to the Standard, "the interests of organizations that provide financial and in-kind support for the development of accredited CPD activities cannot be assumed to always be congruent with the goal of addressing the educational needs of the medical profession. Therefore, it is essential that the medical profession define and assume their responsibility for setting standards that will guide the development, delivery, and evaluation of accredited CPD activities."26 Physicians must complete CPD credits to maintain their professional license, and the accreditation bodies (such as CFPC, RCPSC) have processes in place to assure that these courses are evidence-based and free from industry bias.
In recognition of the importance of opioid prescribing, and the key role that physicians play in this field, the CMA recommends that the government fund certified / accredited CPDs on pain management addressing non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic options, including opioids. This funding could include unconditional contribution from the opioid manufacturers, to ensure independence. The CMA appreciates the role that Health Canada has had in funding evidence-based guidelines.27 This has been a key initiative, which sought to provide physicians with unbiased information. Ongoing funding to maintain their currency would be warranted.
The CMA supports long overdue actions related to the restriction of the marketing of opioids and looks forward to collaboration between Health Canada and the physician community.
The CMA supports Health Canada's efforts to place significant restrictions on the ability of drug manufacturers to advertise opioids to health care practitioners. Marketing initiatives should be vetted for accuracy and truthfulness through a pre-clearance mechanism.
The CMA recommends that the measures chosen to constrain advertising do not unduly restrict access to opioids for appropriate use.
The CMA recommends that the government fund certified / accredited CPDs on pain management addressing non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic options, including opioids, and consider unconditional funding from opioid manufacturers.
The CMA recommends that the government support keeping the 2017 Opioid Prescribing Guidelines current through ongoing funding.
The CMA recognizes that restricting advertising is only one, overdue, measure to address the opioid crisis, and recommends that issues such as access to alternatives for pain management and addiction treatment urgently be addressed.
1 Government of Canada. Notice of intent to restrict the marketing and advertising of opioids. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/drug-products/announcements/restrict-advertising-opioids.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
2 Public Health Agency of Canada. National report: apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada (released June 2018). Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/national-report-apparent-opioid-related-deaths-released-june-2018.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
3 Canadian Medical Association. Harms associated with opioids and other psychoactive prescription drugs. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2009. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
4 Trudeau J. Minister of Health mandate letter. Ottawa: Office of the Prime Minister; 2017 Oct 4. Available: https://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-health-mandate-letter (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
5 Government of Canada. Food and Drugs Act. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 1985. Available: http://lois-laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/F-27/index.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
6 Fischer B, Jones W, Rehm J. High correlations between levels of consumption and mortality related to strong prescription opioid analgesics in British Columbia and Ontario, 2005-2009. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf 2013;22(4):438-42.
7 Gomes T, Juurlink DN, Moineddin R, et al. Geographical variation in opioid prescribing and opioid-related mortality in Ontario. Healthc Q 2011;14(1):22-4.
8 Brands B, Blake J, Sproule B, et al. Prescription opioid abuse in patients presenting for methadone maintenance treatment. Drug Alcohol Depend 2004;73(2):199-207.
9 Manchikanti L, Atluri S, Hansen H, et al. Opioids in chronic noncancer pain: have we reached a boiling point yet? Pain Physician 2014;17(1):E1-10.
10 Dhalla IA, Persaud N, Juurlink DN. Facing up to the prescription opioid crisis. BMJ 2011;343:d5142 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d5142.
11 Franklin GM. Opioids for chronic noncancer pain. A position paper of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology 2014;83:1277-84.
12 Chou R, Ballantyne JC, Fanciullo GJ, et al. Research gaps on use of opioids for chronic noncancer pain: Findings from a review of the evidence for an American Pain Society and American Academy of Pain Medicine clinical practice guideline. J Pain 2009;10:147-59.
13 Noble M, Treadwell JR, Tregear SJ, et al. Long-term opioid management for chronic noncancer pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2010;(1):CD006605.
14 Van Zee A. The promotion and marketing of OxyContin: Commercial triumph, public health tragedy. Am J Public Health 2009;99:221-27.
15 Hamunen K, Paakkari P, Kalso E. Trends in opioid consumption in the Nordic countries 2002-2006. Eur J Pain 2009;13:954-962.
16 Alves TL, Lexchin J, Mintzes B. Medicines information and the regulation of the promotion of pharmaceuticals. Sci Eng Ethics 2018:1-26.
17 Canadian Medical Association. Optimal prescribing. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-01.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
18 Fischer B, Goldman B, Rehm J, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and public health in Canada. Can J Public Health 2008;99(3):182-4.
19 Fischer B, Keates A, Buhringer G, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and prescription opioid-related harms: why so markedly higher in North America compared to the rest of the world? Addiction 2013;109:177-81.
20 Dyer O. OxyContin maker stops marketing opioids, as report details payments to advocacy groups. BMJ 2018;360:k791.
21 Katz D, Caplan AL, Merz JF. All gifts large and small: toward an understanding of the ethics of pharmaceutical industry gift-giving. Am J Bioethics 2003;3(3):39-46.
22 Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board. PAAB Code. Ottawa: PAAB; 2018. Available: http://code.paab.ca/ (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
23 Regulations Amending the Food and Drug Regulations (Opioids), SOR/2018-77. Canada Gazette, Part II 2018 May 2;152(9). Available: http://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2018/2018-05-02/html/sor-dors77-eng.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
24 Canadian Medical Association. Guidelines for physicians in interactions with industry. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2007. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD08-01.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
25 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Code of Ethics (Update 2004). Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2004. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/policy-research/CMA_Policy_Code_of_ethics_of_the_Canadian_Medical_Association_Update_2004_PD04-06-e.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
26 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National standard for support of accredited CPD activities. Ottawa: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada; 2017. Available: http://www.royalcollege.ca/rcsite/cpd/providers/tools-resources-accredited-cpd-providers/national-standard-accredited-cpd-activities-e (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
27 Busse JW, Craigie S, Juurlink DN, et al. Guideline for opioid therapy and chronic noncancer pain. CMAJ 2017;189:E659-66.
The Canadian Medical Association welcomes the opportunity to comment on proposed changes to Health Canada's Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, published in the Canada Gazette, Part I on December 15, 2012.
CMA provided comments on the proposed changes when Health Canada first announced them in June 2011. Our position on these changes, and indeed on the entire Medical Marihuana Access Program (MMAP), has been consistent since the program was initiated. We remain deeply concerned that, though the program has made a physician's authorization the key to a patient's access to medical marijuana, physicians and other health professionals have little to no evidence-based information about its use as medical therapy. As our President, Dr. Anna Reid, noted in December, the regulatory proposals are "equivalent to asking doctors to prescribe while blindfolded."
Health Canada gives two reasons for its regulatory proposal: first, to address concerns about the safety of home grow-ops; and secondly, to reduce the cost of administering a program that has proven more popular than anticipated. Neither of these reasons is related to improving patient care or advancing our clinical knowledge of marijuana as a medical treatment.
CMA understands that many Canadians suffer constant pain from chronic or terminal illnesses and are searching for anything that will provide relief. We know that some patients find that use of marijuana relieves their symptoms and that some health professionals also believe it has therapeutic value. However, we are concerned that these claims remain inadequately supported by scientific research. Controlled studies of medical marijuana have been published recently and some have shown benefits. However, these studies are few in number, of short duration and with small samples, and knowledgeable clinicians say that more research is required. In addition, some say that marijuana has become more potent since it became a popular recreational drug in the 1960s, though others disagree,1 and growers say they can develop strains tailored to the needs of individual medical users.2 Though these claims are part of the popular understanding of medical marijuana, there is no scientifically valid evidence that supports them.
What Physicians Have Told Us
In May 2012, CMA surveyed members of its "e-panel" of physicians to obtain more information about their attitudes and needs regarding medical marijuana. The survey received just over 600 responses out of more than 2,200, for a 27 per cent response rate. Among the findings:
* About 70 per cent of respondents had been asked by patients to approve medical marijuana, though only four per cent said they were asked to do so "often." Of those who were asked, one-third reported that they "never" supported such requests, while 18 per cent "usually" did so.
* 64 per cent of respondents were concerned that patients who request medical marijuana may actually be using it for recreational purposes;
* A large majority of respondents said they would find more information on the appropriate use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and on its therapeutic benefits and risks, useful or very useful.
* About two-thirds agreed or strongly agreed that they would feel more comfortable if:
o Physicians wishing to use medical marijuana in their practices were required to undergo special training and licensing; and,
o Health Canada offered them protection from liability.
* In open-ended questions, some respondents expressed favourable views on marijuana's medical benefits. However, a larger number expressed concern over its harmful effects, such as: psychotic symptoms, especially in younger people; potential for addiction and dependency; and the risks to lung health from smoking it or any other substance.
Marijuana is Not Like Other Therapeutic Products
Theoretically, marijuana, when used for medicinal purposes, is regulated under the Food and Drugs Act. However, because of its unique legal position, Health Canada has exempted it from the applications of the Act and its regulations, and it has not undergone the scrutiny of benefits and risks required of other therapeutic products approved for use in Canada, be they prescription-only or over-the-counter.
According to the Food and Drugs Act (FDA), all drugs requiring a health professional's authorization must be approved for use by Health Canada, based on evidence of effectiveness obtained from controlled clinical trials, which remain the best currently available means of validating knowledge. In addition, Health Canada has a system of post-market surveillance to keep track of problems that arise with prescription drugs in real-world use. Though the CMA has been critical of some aspects of this system,3 we acknowledge that it has added to our body of knowledge on drug safety risks. If marijuana were not an illegal product, it might have been assessed through some form of pre-approval and post-approval surveillance. By exempting marijuana from the FDA's pre-approval and post-approval requirements, Health Canada has lost an opportunity to improve our knowledge of the drug's therapeutic uses.
The Views of Canadians
A recent online survey conducted by Ipsos-Reid on behalf of the CMA provides insight into the views of Canadians on Health Canada's regulatory proposal.4 The survey found:
* 92 per cent of Canadians think it is very or somewhat important that Health Canada not remove itself from its oversight role until guidelines are put in place for physicians;
* 90 per cent believe that research on the effectiveness, safety and risks of medical marijuana is needed before Health Canada removes itself from the authorization process;
* 85 per cent of Canadians believe medical marijuana should be subject to the same rigorous testing and approval standards as other medicines;
* 79 per cent agree that Health Canada has a responsibility to maintain its role in the authorization process.;
The Role of the Physician
The CMA cannot with certainty predict the consequences of these regulatory changes for the practising physician (and, if the regulations are approved, for the nurse practitioner as well). However, we have several causes for concern:
* The gatekeeper role of health professionals: The most significant change, from our point of view, is that Health Canada is removing itself from the approval process, making it a transaction between the patient, the practitioner and the licensed producer. In addition, Section 125 of the regulatory proposal would reduce the content of the authorization form, from its current two-page format to a brief document requiring little more information than is required for a standard medical prescription.
We are concerned that these changes will put an even greater onus on physicians than do the current regulations. The CMA agrees with the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities that the lack of evidence to support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes signifies that it is not a medical intervention. In our opinion, putting physicians in the role of gatekeeper for access to marijuana is inappropriate and may be an abdication of responsibility on Health Canada's part.5 Such a move could increase physicians' liability risk and put them at odds with their medical regulatory authorities, which have no choice but to continue to advise physicians to exercise extreme caution.
The CMA believes, as does the Canadian Medical Protective Association, that a drug's approval under the Food and Drugs Act does not impose a legal obligation on physicians or nurse practitioners to authorize its use if, in their judgment, it is clinically inappropriate. The Ontario Court of Appeal reached a similar decision recently in the case of R. v. Mernagh.
* Protection of Physician Privacy. Under the proposed regulations, health information and physician data - such as the patient's name and date of birth, or the provider's licence number - will be collected by licensed producers who may not be subject to the same regulatory and privacy constraints as the health care sector. The draft regulations also indicate that the licensed producer is expected to confirm that the data on the "medical document" is correct and complete - in other words, health providers who authorize medical marijuana use will receive correspondence from the producer. We are very concerned about the risks this would pose to the privacy of patient and health care provider information. We believe Health Canada should conduct a privacy impact assessment of its proposed regulations or, if it has done so, to share the results.
* Physicians as Dispensers. Section 124 of the proposed regulations would allow authorized health care practitioners to "sell, provide or administer dried marijuana." This is contrary to Article 46 of the CMA Guidelines for Physicians in Interactions with Industry, which states that "Physicians should not dispense pharmaceuticals or other products unless they can demonstrate that these cannot be provided by an appropriate other party."6
* Other possible consequences. We are also concerned about other potential consequences of the regulatory changes. Will more people go to health professionals requesting an authorization, on the assumption that the new regulations will make it easier to get? Will entrepreneurs seize the opportunity to establish "dispensaries" whose intended clientele are not those in legitimate medical need, as recent news stories have suggested?7 Will medical marijuana advocates put increased pressure on physicians to authorize its use?
Meeting the Information Needs of Physicians
In one respect, Health Canada has listened to physicians' concerns regarding the lack of evidence about medical marijuana, and acknowledged the need to remedy this problem. Though it is not addressed in the draft regulations, Health Canada has established an Expert Advisory Committee (EAC) to help provide comprehensive information to health professionals. The CMA has attended meetings of this committee in an observer capacity, suggested the names of practising physicians to serve as members, and made a presentation to the committee at its meeting in November 2012.
If the EAC follows the CMA's suggestions, it will consider actively supporting the following activities:
* Funding of scientific research on the clinical risks and benefits of marijuana;
* Knowledge translation activities to convert this research into accessible, user-friendly tools for education and practice;
* Development of best practice guidelines in the therapeutic use of marijuana. Though this guideline would of necessity be based on "C" level evidence, it would be an improvement on what now exists; and
* Support for a compulsory training and licensing program for physicians wanting to authorize marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The CMA believes that the EAC should be given the mandate and resources to undertake these activities.
Health Canada's stated mission is to help the people of Canada maintain and improve their health. The CMA believes that if Health Canada wants its Medical Marihuana Access Program to serve this mission, it should not withdraw from administering the program, leaving it to health professionals working within a large knowledge gap. Rather, it should support solid research into the use of marijuana as medication and make a commitment to share this knowledge with the health professional community and to support best clinical practices.
1 Bonsor K: "How marijuana works". Accessed at http://science.howstuffworks.com/marijuana5.htm
3 CMA Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health: Post-Market Surveillance of Prescription Drugs (February 28, 2008). Accessed at http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2008/brief-drug-en-08.pdf
4 Online survey of 1,000 Canadians the week of Feb. 24, 2013 conducted by Ipsos-Reid. Summary report of the poll can be accessed at www.cma.ca/advocacy/cma-media-centre.
5 Letter to Health Canada from Yves Robert, MD, President of the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada, November 4, 2011.
6 CMA. 2004. Guidelines for Physicians in Interactions with Industry. Guideline can be accessed online: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD08-01.pdf
7 Lee J. "Ross Rebagliati to Open medical marijuana franchise." Vancouver Sun. January 23, 2013. Accessed at http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Ross+Rebagliati+open+medical+marijuana+franchise/7860946/story.html