In 2010, physician delegates to the CMA's annual General Council voted in favour of a ban on mixed martial arts prize fighting matches in Canada. The CMA's complete policy on head injury and sport, the central concern of physicians with respect to mixed martial arts, is attached as an appendix to this brief. A key recommendation in this policy is that physicians discourage participation in sports in which intentional trauma to the head and body is the objective of the sport, as is the case with mixed martial arts (MMA).
MMA prize fighting, like commercial boxing, is distinct from healthy sport because the basic tenet is to win by deliberately incapacitating one's opponent through violent bodily assault. Professional fighters train in different martial arts disciplines in order to develop the widest possible set of fighting techniques. Blows delivered by hands, feet, elbows and knees are entirely permissible.1 "Bouts" are won in a number of ways that include deliberate head injury such as knockout (KO) and technical knockout (TKO). Physician and referee stoppage are recognized as a necessary option for the declaration of a winner in order to prevent continued violence.4; 5
Despite the introduction of rules and regulations meant to ensure fighter safety, MMA is a violent sport with a high risk of injury. Publications seem to indicate that the overall injury rate in professional MMA competitions ranges approximately from 23 to 28 injuries per 100 fight participations, which is similar to that found in other combat sports involving striking, including boxing.1; 5; 7 Organizers support the rules because they realize that prize fighting can't be sustained as a business if the fighters are unable to return to the ring.
The injuries vary in severity but include many types of head injury: ocular injuries, such as rupture of the bony orbit or of the eye itself; facial injuries including fractures; spine injuries; concussion; and tympanic membrane ruptures.2, 6, 7
Most sanctioned matches end in a submission, judge's decision or referee/physician stoppage, as opposed to KO or TKO. It is important to note that the overall risk of critical injury, defined as a persistent acquired brain injury, permanent blindness, permanent functional loss of limb or paralysis, appears to be low. The ability of referees to intercede and for fighters to voluntarily concede victory to their opponents, as well as the presence of physicians at the ringside, are all thought to play a role in minimizing the risk of critical injury.7
The risk of traumatic brain injury and concussion nevertheless remains one of the chief concerns with respect to MMA. KO rates are thought to be lower in professional MMA events than in similar boxing competitions, but it is not clear why. It is well known that knockouts are the result of brain injury4 and at least one study reported that blunt trauma to the head was a common reason for match stoppage. One study reported a severe concussion rate of 16.5 per 100 fighter participations (3.3% of all matches). 6 Regrettably, as in other combat sports, long-term follow-up of players is insufficient to measure how often head injury leads to permanent brain damage.1, 3
Whether you defend or condemn MMA, the true nature and rate of severe brain injuries is speculative.6 Similarly, the absence of longitudinal studies means that the true long-term health implications of MMA fighting can only be surmised.
Risk factors for injury
Unsurprisingly, losing fighters are at a considerably greater risk for sustaining injury. It is notable that fighters losing by KO or TKO appear to have a higher overall incidence of injury.4 An increased duration of fighting is associated with an increased incidence of injury.3, 5 However, it remains unclear how age and fight experience contribute to the risk for sustaining injury.2, 3, 4 It appears that fighters with head injury continue to fight and sustain further injury, head injury being more clearly associated with injury than are either inexperience or age.
Despite the sport's growing popularity, professional MMA competitions are currently illegal in Canada. Indeed, section 83(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada states that only boxing matches, where only fists are used, are legal. However, the governments of Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Northwest Territories have regulated/licensed MMA through athletic governing commissions, effectively circumventing the Criminal Code. The legality of the sport in New Brunswick, Alberta and British Columbia currently varies by municipality.
The CMA recommends that Section 83(2) of the Criminal Code, the ban on mixed martial arts, be maintained in its current form.
The CMA recommends that the federal government undertake further research on head injuries and concussion in Canada, including expanding current surveillance tools for the incidence of these injuries.
1. Bledsoe, G. H. (2009). Mixed martial arts. In R. Kordi, N. Maffulli, R. R. Wroble, & W. A. Angus (Eds.), Combat Sports Medicine (1st ed., pp. 323-330). London: Springer.
2. Buse, G. J. (2006). No holds barred sport fighting: A 10 year review of mixed martial arts competition. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(2),169-172.
3. Bledsoe, G. H., Hsu, E. B., Grabowski, J. G., Brill, J. D., & Li, G. (2006). Incidence of injury in professional mixed martial arts competitions. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 5(Combat Sports Special Issue), 136-142.
4. Walrod, B. (2011). Current review of injuries sustained in mixed martial arts competition. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 10(5), 288-289.
5. Unified Fighting Championship. (n.d.). Unified rules and other important regulations of mixed martial arts. Retrieved May 28, 2012, from http://www.ufc.com/discover/sport/rules-and-regulations
6. Ngai, K. M., Levy, F., & Hsu, E. B. (2008). Injury trends in sanctioned mixed martial arts competition: A 5-year review from 2002 to 2007. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 42(8), 686-689.
7. Scoggin III, J. F., Brusovanik, G., Pi, M., Izuka, B., Pang, P., Tokomura, S. et al. (2010). Assessment of injuries sustained in mixed martial arts competition. American Journal of Orthopedics, 39(5), 247-251.
Thank you Mr. Chair.
I am Dr. Jeff Blackmer, the Vice-President of Medical Professionalism for the Canadian Medical Association.
On behalf of the CMA, let me first commend the committee for initiating an emergency study on this public health crisis in Canada.
As the national organization representing over 83,000 Canadian physicians, the CMA has an instrumental role in collaborating with other health stakeholders, governments and patient organizations in addressing the opioid crisis in Canada.
On behalf of Canada’s doctors, the CMA is deeply concerned with the escalating public health crisis related to problematic opioid and fentanyl use.
Physicians are on the front lines in many respects.
Doctors are responsible for supporting patients with the management of acute and chronic pain. Policy makers must recognize that prescription opioids are an essential tool in the alleviation of pain and suffering, particularly in palliative and cancer care.
The CMA has long been concerned with the harms associated with opioid use. In fact, we appeared before this committee as part of its 2013 study on the government’s role in addressing prescription drug abuse.
At that time, we made a number of recommendations on the government’s role – some of which I will reiterate today.
Since then, the CMA has taken numerous actions to contribute to Canada’s response to the opioid crisis.
These actions have included advancing the physician perspective in all active government consultations.
In addition to the 2013 study by the health committee, we have also participated in the 2014 ministerial roundtable and recent regulatory consultations led by Health Canada — specifically, on tamper resistant technology for drugs and delisting of naloxone for the prevention of overdose deaths in the community.
Our other actions have included:
· Undertaking physician polling to better understand physician experiences with prescribing opioids;
· Developing and disseminating new policy on addressing the harms associated with opioids;
· Supporting the development of continuing medical education resources and tools for physicians;
· Supporting the national prescription drug drop off days; and,
· Hosting a physician education session as part of our annual meeting in 2015.
Further, I’m pleased to report that the CMA has recently joined the Executive Council of the First Do No Harm strategy, coordinated by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
In addition, we have joined 7 leading stakeholders as part of a consortium formed this year to collaborate on addressing the issue from a medical standpoint.
I will now turn to the CMA’s recommendations for the committee’s consideration. These are grouped in four major theme areas.
1) Harm Reduction
The first of them is harm reduction.
Addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments.
Despite the fact that there is broad recognition that we are in a public health crisis, the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy is heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach rather than a public health approach.
In its current form, this strategy does not significantly address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use.
The CMA strongly recommends that the federal government review the National Anti-Drug Strategy to reinstate harm reduction as a core pillar.
Supervised consumption sites are an important part of a harm reduction program that must be considered in an overall strategy to address harms from opioids. The availability of supervised consumption sites is still highly limited in Canada.
The CMA maintains its concerns that the new criteria established by the Respect for Communities Act are overly burdensome and deter the establishment of new sites.
As such, the CMA continues to recommend that the act be repealed or at the least, significantly amended.
2) Expanding Pain Management and Addiction Treatment
The second theme area I will raise is the need to expand treatment options and services.
Treatment options and services for both addiction as well as pain management are woefully under-resourced in Canada.
This includes substitution treatments such as buprenorphine-naloxone as well as services that help patients taper off opioids or counsel them with cognitive behavioural therapy.
Availability and access of these critical resources varies by jurisdiction and region. The federal government should prioritize the expansion of these services.
The CMA recommends that the federal government deliver additional funding on an emergency basis to significantly expand the availability and access to addiction treatment and pain management services.
3) Investing in Prescriber and Patient Education
The third theme I will raise for the committee’s consideration is the need for greater investment in both prescriber as well as patient education resources.
For prescribers, this includes continuing education modules as well as training curricula. We need to ensure the availability of unbiased and evidenced-based educational programs in opioid prescribing, pain management and in the management of addictions.
Further, support for the development of educational tools and resources based on the new clinical guidelines to be released in early 2017 will have an important role.
Finally, patient and public education on the harms associated with opioid usage is critical.
As such, the CMA recommends that the federal government deliver new funding to support the availability and provision of education and training resources for prescribers, patients and the public.
4) Establishing a Real-time Prescription Monitoring Program
Finally, to support optimal prescribing, it is critical that prescribers be provided with access to a real-time prescription monitoring program.
Such a program would allow physicians to review a patient’s prescription history from multiple health services prior to prescribing. Real-time prescription monitoring is currently only available in two jurisdictions in Canada.
Before closing, I must emphasize that the negative impacts associated with prescription opioids represent a complex issue that will require a multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder response.
A key challenge for public policy makers and prescribers is to mitigate the harms associated with prescription opioid use, without negatively affecting patient access to the appropriate treatment for their clinical conditions.
To quote a past CMA president: “the unfortunate reality is that there is no silver bullet solution and no one group or government can address this issue alone”.
The CMA is committed to being part of the solution.