The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) provides this submission in response to Finance Canada’s consultation on Legislative Proposals Relating to Income Tax, Sales Tax and Excise Duties (Draft Tax Legislative Proposals).
The CMA is the national voice of Canadian physicians. On behalf of its more than 83,000 members and the Canadian public, the CMA’s mission is helping physicians care for patients. In fulfillment of this mission, the CMA’s role is focused on national, pan-Canadian health advocacy and policy priorities.
As detailed in this brief, the CMA is gravely concerned that by capturing group medical structures in the application of Clause 13 of the Draft Tax Legislative Proposals, the federal government will inadvertently negatively affect medical research, medical training and education as well as access to care.
To ensure that the unintended consequences of this federal tax policy change do not occur, the CMA is strongly recommending that the federal government exempt group medical and health care delivery from the proposed changes to s.125 of the Income Tax Act regarding multiplication of access to the small business deduction in Clause 13 of the Draft Tax Legislative Proposals.
Relevance of the Canadian Controlled Private Corporation Framework to Medical Practice
Canada’s physicians are highly skilled professionals, providing an important public service and making a significant contribution to our country’s knowledge economy. Due to the design of Canada’s health care system, a large majority of physicians – more than 90% – are self-employed professionals and effectively small business owners.
As self-employed small business owners, physicians typically do not have access to pensions or health benefits, although they are responsible for these benefits for their employees. Access to the Canadian-Controlled Private Corporation (CCPC) framework and the Small Business Deduction (SBD) are integral to managing a medical practice in Canada. It is imperative to recognize that physicians cannot pass on any increased costs, such as changes to CCPC framework and access to the SBD, onto patients, as other businesses would do with clients.
In light of the unique business perspectives of medical practice, the CMA strongly welcomed the federal recognition in the 2016 budget of the value that health care professionals deliver to communities across Canada as small business operators. Contrary to this recognition, the 2016 budget also introduced a proposal to alter eligibility to the small business deduction that will impact physicians incorporated in group medical structures.
What’s at risk: Contribution of group medical structures to health care delivery
The CMA estimates that approximately 10,000 to 15,000 physicians will be affected by this federal taxation proposal. If implemented, this federal taxation measure will negatively affect group medical structures in communities across Canada. By capturing group medical structures, this proposal also introduces an inequity amongst incorporated physicians, and incentivizes solo practice, which counters provincial and territorial health delivery priorities.
Group medical structures are prevalent within academic health science centres and amongst certain specialties, notably oncology, anaesthesiology, radiology, and cardiology. Specialist care has become increasingly sub-specialized. For many specialties, it is now standard practice for this care to be provided by teams composed of numerous specialists, sub-specialists and allied health care providers. Team-based care is essential for educating and training medical students and residents in teaching hospitals, and for conducting medical research.
Put simply, group medical structures have not been formed for taxation or commercial purposes. Rather, group medical structures were formed to deliver provincial and territorial health priorities, primarily in the academic health setting, such as teaching, medical research as well as optimizing the delivery of patient care. Over many years, and even decades, provincial and territorial governments have been supporting and encouraging the delivery of care through team-based models.
To be clear, group medical structures were formed to meet health sector priorities; they were not formed for business purposes. It is equally important to recognize that group medical structures differ in purpose and function from similar corporate or partnership structures seen in other professions. Unlike most other professionals, physicians do not form these structures for the purpose of enhancing their ability to earn profit.
It is critical for Finance Canada to acknowledge that altering eligibility to the small business deduction will have more significant taxation implication than simply the 4.5% difference in the small business versus general rate at the federal level. It would be disingenuous for Finance Canada to attempt to argue that removing full access to the small business deduction for incorporated physicians in group medical structures will be a minor taxation increase. As taxation policy experts, Finance Canada is aware that this change will impact provincial/territorial taxation, as demonstrated below in Table 1.
Table 1: Taxation impacts by province/territory, if the federal taxation proposal is implemented
In Nova Scotia, for example, approximately 60% of specialist physicians practice in group medical structures. If the federal government applies this taxation proposal to group medical structures, these physicians will face an immediate 17.5% increase in taxation. In doing so, the federal government will establish a strong incentive for these physicians to move away from team-based practice to solo practice. If this comes to pass, the federal government may be responsible for triggering a reorganization of medical practice in Nova Scotia.
Excerpts from physician communiques
The CMA has received as well as been copied on a significant volume of correspondence from across our membership conveying deep concern with the federal taxation proposal. To provide an illustration of the risks of this proposal to health care, below are excerpts from some of these communiques:
“Our Partnership was formed in the 1970s…The mission of the Partnership is to achieve excellence in patient care, education and research activities….there would be a serious adverse effect on retention and recruitment if members do not have access to the full small business deduction…The changes will likely result in pressure to dissolve the partnership and revert to the era of departments services by independent contractors with competing individual financial interests.”
Submitted to the CMA April 15, 2016 from a member of the Anesthesia Associates of the Ottawa Hospital General Campus
“The University of Ottawa Heart Institute is an academic health care institution dedicated to patient care, research and medical education…To support what we call our “academic mission,” cardiologists at the institute have formed an academic partnership…If these [taxation] changes go forward they will crippled the ability of groups such as ours to continue to function and will have a dramatic negative impact on medical education, innovative health care research, and the provision of high-quality patient care to our sickest patients.”
Submitted to the CMA April 19, 2016 from a member of the Associates in Cardiology
“We are a general partnership consisting of 93 partners all of whom are academic anesthesiologists with appointments to the Faculty of the University of Toronto and with clinical appointments at the University Health Network, Sinai Health System or Women’s College Hospital…In contrast to traditional business partnerships, we glean no business advantage whatsoever from being in a partnership…the proposed legislation in Budget 2016 seems unfair in that it will add another financial hardship to our partners – in our view, this is a regressive tax on research, teaching and innovation.”
Submitted to the CMA April 14, 2016 from members of the UHN-MSH Anesthesia Associates
The CMA recommends that the federal government exempt group medical and health care delivery from the proposed changes to s.125 of the Income Tax Act regarding multiplication of access to the small business deduction, as proposed in Clause 13 of the Draft Tax Legislative Proposals.
Below is a proposed legislative amendment to ensure group medical structures are exempted from Clause 13 of the Draft Tax Legislative Proposals:
Section 125 of the Act is amended by adding the following after proposed subsection 125(9):
125(10) Interpretation of designated member – [group medical partnership] – For purposes of this section, in determining whether a Canadian-controlled private corporation controlled directly or indirectly in any manner whatever by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician is a designated member of a particular partnership in a taxation year, the term "particular partnership" shall not include any partnership that is a group medical partnership.
125(11) Interpretation of specified corporate income – [group medical corporation] – For purposes of this section, in determining the specified corporate income for a taxation year of a corporation controlled directly or indirectly in any manner whatever by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician, the term "private corporation" shall not include a group medical corporation.
Subsection 125(7) of the Act is amended by adding the following in alphabetical order:
"group medical partnership" means a partnership that:
(a) is controlled, directly or indirectly in any manner whatever, by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician; and
(b) earns all or substantially all of its income for the year from an active business of providing services or property to, or in relation to, a medical practice;
"group medical corporation" means a corporation that:
(a) is controlled, directly or indirectly in any manner whatever, by one or more physicians or a person that does not deal at arm's length with a physician; and
(b) earns all or substantially all of its income for the year from an active business of providing services or property to, or in relation to, a medical practice.
"medical practice" means any practice and authorized acts of a physician as defined in provincial or territorial legislation or regulations and any activities in relation to, or incidental to, such practice and authorized acts;
"physician" means a health care practitioner duly licensed with a provincial or territorial medical regulatory authority and actively engaged in practice;
Dear Mr. Rodrigue:
The Canadian Medical Association is pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the consultation on the proposed front-of-packaging labelling (FOP) as posted in the Canada Gazette Part One on February 9, 2018.1 This new requirement will “provide clear and consistent front-of-package information and updated nutrient content claims to help protect Canadians from the risks of chronic diseases” related to the intake of foods high in sugar, sodium, saturated fats and trans fat.2
1 Canada Gazette Part One. Regulations Amending Certain Regulations Made Under the Food and Drugs Act (Nutrition Symbols, Other Labelling Provisions, Partially Hydrogenated Oils and Vitamin D) Department of Health Vol. 152, No. 6 — February 10, 2018
2 Ibid pg.1
3 Presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, Nutrition Labelling, Canadian Medical Association, March 3, 2011 accessed at http://policybase.cma.ca
The CMA believes that governments have a responsibility to provide guidance on healthy eating that can be easily incorporated into daily lives, and that the federal government has a continuous obligation to promulgate policies, standards, regulations and legislations that support healthy food and beverage choices; provide user-friendly consumer information including complete nutritional content and accurate advertising claims; and increase the amount of information provided on product labels. We also commend Health Canada for its current work on revising the Canada Food Guide.
The CMA has supported a standard “at a glance” approach to FOP food labelling that can reduce confusion and help consumers make informed dietary choices since 2011.3 FOP labelling on packaged foods will help Canadians make healthier food and beverage choices. It will draw attention to those ingredients to be avoided in higher levels and can reinforce public health messaging on healthy eating. An added benefit may be an incentive to the food industry to reformulate processed foods with lower amounts of those nutrients highlighted in FOP labelling.
The CMA supports the placement of the proposed symbol on the upper and/or right hand side of the packaging, covering 25% of the principal display surface. The symbol
must be clearly delineated from the product packaging so that it stands out and can be located with relative ease. It is important for the symbol to convey to the consumer that there is a certain degree of risk involved in consuming these foods, hence the colours used and the shape will be important.
Of the four symbols proposed by Health Canada, our preference is for the one displayed here but with a more defined, thicker border, that includes a small outer buffer (in white). It will be essential for Health Canada to ensure that the symbol design has been tested thoroughly with consumers and is effective in conveying the intended “high in” message.
As such, manufacturers will need clear guidance about the constraints on the use and placement of these symbols to ensure they cannot be misconstrued and to prevent the use of configurations that will diminish their effectiveness. Manufacturers must not be permitted to place voluntary nutrient content or health claims below or near the main symbol that would distort the message and create confusion.
Foods to be exempted from front-of-package nutrition labelling
There will be foods that are exempt from the labelling requirements and consumers will need clear explanations with respect to those that are exempt and why; some will be obvious, some will not. The CMA supports the proposed exemptions for eggs, fruits, vegetables and unsweetened, unsalted plain milk, and whole milk. However, we do not believe flavoured and/or seasoning salts and “sea salts” should be exempted from the requirement to have an FOP symbol on the package. Health Canada will need to undertake an education program to explain to consumers that these products are actually high in sodium.
Nutrient thresholds for sodium, sugar & saturated fat
CMA policy has encouraged governments to continue to work to reduce the salt, sugar, saturated fat, trans-fat and calorie content of processed foods and prepared meals.4 The nutrient levels chosen will therefore be critical in that regard. The CMA supports the proposed levels to identify foods high in sugar, salt or saturated fats. The CMA believes that it is important that there is consistency across all nutritional and healthy eating information and advice for Canadians. Ensuring consistency between the “high in” threshold and the 15% “a lot” daily value (DV) message delivers a clear message of concern.
4 Healthy Behaviours: Promoting Physical Activity and Healthy Eating, Canadian Medical Association Policy, 2014, accessed at http://policybase.cma.ca.
While we understand the rationale behind increasing the nutrient threshold for prepackaged meals to 30% of the DV, we recommend that the threshold for “high in”
sugar of 30 grams or more total sugars per serving of stated size may be too high and should be reconsidered. It should also be noted that the different thresholds on prepackaged foods and prepackaged meals may cause confusion for consumers and should be introduced with some consumer education.
Nutrient content claims, in relation to Front-of-Packaging Labelling symbol
Allowing a food that qualifies for a “high in” sugar FOP symbol to also display a “no added sugars” claim would be very confusing to consumers. The product label information would appear as quite contradictory; therefore the CMA does support not allowing “no added sugar” claims on these foods. The CMA would suggest that a food that is high in two or more of sugar, sodium or saturated fats not be allowed to display any content claims to avoid any consumer confusion.
High-intensity sweetener labelling
Canadians have come to rely on easy-to-recognize information that alerts them that food may contain artificial sweeteners. Therefore, we do not support the elimination of the labelling requirement for artificial sweeteners on the principal display panel. For products that have high intensity sweeteners added and which bear claims such as “unsweetened” or “no sugar added,” a declaration of “artificially sweetened” should be clearly visible on the FOP. The specific sweetener does not need to be identified so long as it is declared in the list of ingredients. As long as quantity is displayed on the nutrition facts table it doesn’t need to be on the principal display.
Further, while we recognize that harmonizing with USA labelling regulations is desirable, we recommend strongly against the use of the term “phenylketonurics.” The proper approach would be to use the phrase “people with phenylketonuria” for any warnings on products containing aspartame, which contains phenylalanine.
For many Canadians, their diet can have a negative rather than positive impact on their overall health. There is a particular concern for children and youth who are growing up in increasingly obesogenic environments that reinforce practices that work against a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle. Determined action is required for children and youth to learn and acquire healthy behaviours that they will maintain throughout their life. The CMA supports the government’s Healthy Living Strategy and their efforts to create a healthier food environment. The addition of FOP nutrition labelling is an important tool to make the healthy choice the easy choice.
Jeff Blackmer, MD, MHSc, FRCPC
Vice-president, Medical Professionalism
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide comment on the proposal by Health Canada1 to revise the listing for naloxone on the Prescription Drug List (PDL) to allow the non-prescription use of naloxone, "when indicated for emergency use for opioid overdose outside hospital settings".
The CMA has over 83,000 physician-members. Its mission is helping physicians care for patients and its vision is to be the leader in engaging and serving physicians, and the national voice for the highest standards for health and health care.
The harms associated with opioids, which include prescription medicines such as oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl, as well as illegal drugs such as heroin, is a significant public health and patient safety issue. Harms include addiction, diversion, overdose and death.
According to 2013 estimates2, Canada has one of the highest per capita consumptions of prescription opioids in the world. In North America, about 5% of the adult population, and substantially higher rates for teens and young adults, reported non-medical opioid use in the previous year. This rate is higher than all other illegal drugs, with the exception of marijuana.3
Data on the harms caused by opioids are not collected systematically in Canada; however, practitioners have seen the significant impact of these drugs on their patients and to whole communities, including indigenous peoples. Opioid addiction rates from 43% to 85% have been reported in some indigenous communities.4 5 In Ontario, according to the Office of the Chief Coroner, opioid-related deaths nearly tripled from 2002 to 2010.6
Canada's physicians believe that Canada needs a comprehensive national strategy to address the harms associated with psychoactive drugs, whether illegal or prescription-based.7 One component of this strategy is the prevention of overdose deaths and complications with appropriate medication and prompt emergency response.
For over four decades, naloxone (or Narcan(r)) has been used as a prescription drug for the complete or partial reversal of opioid overdoses. Naloxone counteracts the life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system, allowing an overdose victim to breathe normally. The World Health Organization placed naloxone on its list of essential medications in 1983.
Physicians have been encouraged to identify patients who could benefit from the co-prescription of naloxone, along with opioids, when these are necessary. Increased risk for opioid overdose includes previous episodes of overdose, history of substance use disorder, higher opioid dosages, or concurrent benzodiazepine use.8 9
More recently, with the increase in opioid overdoses, different provinces have created programs to increase access to naloxone outside of health care settings, such as "take-home naloxone programs". The experience in Canada and in other countries has been shown to have various benefits, including reducing overdose deaths.10 11 In Canada, naloxone has been administered through intramuscular or subcutaneous injection in these community-based programs, but in other countries it has also been available in a nasal spray form or in a pre-filled auto-injector format. Those that receive the naloxone kit are trained in the recognition of signs and symptoms of opioid overdose, in the administration of naloxone and first aid and in the need to call for medical follow-up.
In its 2015 policy on Harms associated with Opioids and other Psychoactive Prescription Drugs, the CMA supports the improvement of access to naloxone, particularly by individuals who are at a high risk of overdose as well as third parties who can assist a person experiencing an opiate-related overdose. The CMA also encourages the creation and scaling up of community-based programs that offer access to naloxone and other opioid overdose prevention tools and services. This would include training for health workers, first responders, as well as opioid users, families and peers about the prevention of overdose fatalities.12 Also in 2015, the CMA approved a resolution supporting "the development and implementation of a national strategy on the use of naloxone".13
A report issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Health Organization supports making naloxone available to first responders as well as to people dependent on opioids, their peers and family members who are likely to be present when an overdose occurs.14 Many other organizations, such as the Canadian Pharmacists Association, the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association, are also supportive of enhanced access to naloxone in the community.15 16 17
The prescription status has been one of the barriers to increased access to naloxone. It is more likely that a family member, partner or friend would need to administer the naloxone in an overdose than the person who is prescribed the drug. Community-based programs have had to work with standing orders from prescribers. First responders, such as police officers and firefighters, should be able to carry and administer the drug, given they are often the first professionals to arrive at a scene where someone has overdosed.
According to Health Canada, the provinces and territories have collectively asked that the prescription status be re-evaluated. Health Canada has undertaken a Benefit-Harm-Uncertainty assessment of naloxone, and come to the following conclusions:
This assessment recommended that naloxone could safely be administered without the direct supervision of a physician if the person administering the drug has appropriate training.
The main risks associated with the unsupervised use of the drug are:
* the administrator may have difficulty filling the syringe and administering the drug under pressure in an emergency situation;
* the administrator may not seek professional care for follow-up of the patient after injection;
* chance of the patient relapsing since the effects of naloxone may only last for up to one hour depending on amount and type of opioid causing the overdose;
* that the patient may become very agitated and aggressive after coming out of the opioid depression (Acute Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome).
These risks can be mitigated with appropriate training of the potential administrator before naloxone is distributed. The benefit of quickly responding to an overdose far outweighed these risks. Evidence from provincial take-home programs indicates that naloxone can be administered (intramuscularly or subcutaneously) by a layperson and its effects monitored successfully without practitioner supervision. Although an opioid overdose might be mistakenly diagnosed by a layperson, the injection of naloxone in a person not overdosing on an opioid will cause no serious harm.18
Various jurisdictions have delisted or are studying special conditions for the status of naloxone as a prescription drug, including Italy and some U.S. States.19
The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide feedback on this important matter to physicians, and congratulates Health Canada in taking the initiative to make naloxone more accessible in the community; thereby helping to address the concerning levels of opioid overdoses in Canada.
That Health Canada proceed with the revisions to the listing for naloxone on the Prescription Drug List, to allow the non-prescription use of naloxone when indicated for emergency use for opioid overdose outside hospital settings. As outlined in Health Canada's assessment, the potential risks can be mitigated by well-designed community-based programs.
That Health Canada assess the option of licensing naloxone products that don't require training for intramuscular or subcutaneous injection, such as nasal sprays or automated handheld injectors (similar to epinephrine auto-injectors for use in serious allergic reactions), in order to further increase accessibility.
1 Health Canada. Consultation on the Prescription Drug List: Naloxone. File number: 16-100479-342. January 14 2016. Ottawa. Available: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/consultation/drug-medic/pdl_ldo_consult_naloxone-eng.php (accessed 2016 March 17).
2 International Narcotics Control Board. Narcotics drugs: estimated world requirements for 2013; statistics for 2011. New York: United Nations; 2013. Available: https://www.incb.org/documents/Narcotic-Drugs/Technical-Publications/2012/NDR_2012_Annex_2_EFS.pdf (accessed 2016 March 17).
3 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.
4 Chiefs of Ontario. Prescription drug abuse strategy: 'Take a stand.' Final report. Toronto: Chiefs of Ontario; 2010. Available: www.chiefs-of-ontario.org/sites/default/files/files/Final%20Draft%20Prescription%20Drug%20Abuse%20Strategy.pdf (accessed 2016 March 17).
5 Health Canada. Honouring our strengths: a renewed framework to address substance use issues among First Nations people in Canada. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2011. Available: http://nnadaprenewal.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Honouring-Our-Strengths-2011_Eng1.pdf (accessed 2016 March 17).
6 National Advisory Council on Prescription Drug Misuse. First do no harm: responding to Canada's prescription drug crisis. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; 2013.
7 Canadian Medical Association. Policy Document PD15-06 - Harms associated with opioids and other psychoactive prescriptions drugs. Ottawa: The Author; 2015. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/policies/cma_policy_harms_associated_with_opioids_and_other_psychoactive_prescription_drugs_pd15-06-e.pdf (accessed 2016-March 17).
8 National Opioid Use Guideline Group. Canadian guideline for safe and effective use of opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. Hamilton, ON: McMaster University; 2010. Available: http://nationalpaincentre.mcmaster.ca/opioid/ (accessed 2016 March 17).
9 Dowell D, Haegerich TM, Chou R. CDC guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain-United States, 2016. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2016;65(RR-1):1-49. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/rr/rr6501e1er.htm?s_cid=rr6501e1er_w (accessed 2016 March 17).
10 Walley AY, Xuan Z, Hackman HH, et al. Opioid overdose rates and implementation of overdose education and nasal naloxone distribution in Massachusetts: Interrupted time series analysis. BMJ. 2013;346:f174. Available: http://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/346/bmj.f174.full.pdf (accessed 2016 March 17).
11 Banjo, O, Tzemis, D, Al-Outub, D, et al. A quantitative and qualitative evaluation of the British Columbia Take Home Naloxone program. CMAJ Open, August 21, 2014;2(3) E153-E161. Available: http://cmajopen.ca/content/2/3/E153.full (accessed 2016 March 17).
12 Carter CI, Graham B. Opioid overdose prevention & response in Canada. Policy brief series. Vancouver: Canadian Drug Policy Coalition; 2013. Available: http://drugpolicy.ca/solutions/publications/opioid-overdose-prevention-and-response-in-canada/ (accessed 2016 March 17).
13 Canadian Medical Association. Policy Resolution GC15-18 - National strategy on the use of naloxone. Ottawa: The Author; 2015. Available: policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/CMAPolicy/PublicB.htm (accessed 2016 March 17).
14 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime / World Health Organization Opioid overdose: preventing and reducing opioid overdose mortality. Discussion Paper UNODC/WHO 2013. Available: http://www.unodc.org/docs/treatment/overdose.pdf (accessed 2016 March 17).
15 American Medical Association. AMA adopts new policies at annual meeting. Press Release. New York, NY: Reuters; June 19, 2012. Available: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUS182652+19-Jun-2012+GNW20120619 (accessed 2016 March 17).
16 Drug Policy Alliance. American Public Health Association Policy Statement on Preventing Overdose Through Education and Naloxone Distribution. New York, NY: Drug Policy Alliance; October 30, 2012. Available: http://www.drugpolicy.org/resource/american-public-health-association-policy-statement-preventing-overdose-through-education-a (accessed 2016 March 17).
17 Canadian Pharmacists Association. CPhA Welcomes Health Canada Move to Change Prescription Status of Naloxone. News Release. January 14, 2016. Available: https://www.pharmacists.ca/news-events/news/cpha-welcomes-health-canada-move-to-change-prescription-status-of-naloxone/ (accessed 2016 March 17).
18 Health Canada. Consultation on the Prescription Drug List: Naloxone. File number: 16-100479-342. January 14 2016. Ottawa. Available: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/consultation/drug-medic/pdl_ldo_consult_naloxone-eng.php (accessed 2016 March 17).
19 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime / World Health Organization Opioid overdose: preventing and reducing opioid overdose mortality. Discussion Paper UNODC/WHO 2013. Available: http://www.unodc.org/docs/treatment/overdose.pdf (accessed 2016 March 17).
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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Public Safety Canada, Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. 2018 Law Enforcement Roundtable on the Opioid Crisis. Meeting Summary. Ottawa; 2018. Available: https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/lw-nfrcmnt-rndtbl-pd-crss-2018/index-en.aspx?utm_source=stakeholders&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=opioidcrisis (accessed 2018 Nov 29).
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Sproule B. Prescription Monitoring Programs in Canada: Best Practice and Program Review. Ottawa, ON, 2015 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Prescription-Monitoring-Programs-in-Canada-Report-2015-en.pdf (accessed 2018 Dec 4).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada's notice as published in the Canada Gazette, Part 1 for interested stakeholders to provide comments on Health Canada's intent to amend Schedule 1 to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and the Schedule to the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR) to include tramadol, its salts, isomers and derivatives and the salts and isomers of its derivatives.1
Tramadol has been marketed in Canada since 2005 and is available only by prescription.1 The CMA is concerned that, despite tramadol being judged low-risk in terms of addiction, it is nevertheless an opioid and should be placed in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, under Schedule 1.2
The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that tramadol is one of six opioids accounting for 96% of all opioid prescriptions between 2012 and 2016.3 The report noted that there was a significant increase in tramadol prescriptions and Defined Daily Doses (DDDs) in that same 2012 to 2016 timeframe that may have been due in part to a decrease in prescriptions and DDDs for codeine.
Tramadol is considered a weak opioid and is used to treat "moderate pain that has not responded to first-line treatments."4 It is regarded as having a lower rate of overdose, misuse and addiction than more powerful opioids.4
However, it is not without risks. The addition of tramadol to the CDSA, Schedule 1, is important because, as with any opioid, dependence on tramadol can occur with use over prolonged periods. According to the World Health Organization "dependence to tramadol may occur when used within the recommended dose range of tramadol but especially when used at supra-therapeutic doses."5 Physical dependence is "distinct from addiction, which includes behavioural elements and harm despite continued drug use." Maintenance of patients on opioids sometimes is only to avoid withdrawal symptoms, caused by physical dependence, as opposed to being used to treat pain.6 Tramadol must be tapered under supervision from a health professional.
In addition, tramadol's analgesic effect can be unpredictable depending on a person's genetic capacity to metabolize the drug. Success or failure will be predicated "on it being converted by CYP2D6 to an active metabolite, O-desmethyltramadol."7 If there is a CYP2D6 inhibitor present or if the person's genetic make-up is such that they do not metabolize the enzyme very well, "conversion can be blocked so that little or none of the metabolite is produced and little analgesic effect is achieved."7 These tramadol pathways may also be blocked which could lead to the drug being "present at higher concentrations for longer periods."7 As one expert has noted "when a doctor prescribes tramadol, he or she rolls the dice, not knowing whether the patient will get a bit of opioid, a lot of opioid or none at all."6
The risks associated with tramadol with respect to children are such that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently recommended that tramadol (and codeine) should not be given to children under 12.8 Their concern stems from the potential for tramadol (and codeine) to "cause life-threatening breathing problems in children."9 The FDA also recommended that breast-feeding women not be given tramadol because of the potential harm to the child. As well, teens 12 to 18 should not be given the drug "if there is a history of obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, or severe lung disease."9 Further, it warned that it should not "be given to children or adolescents as a pain medication after surgery to remove the tonsils or adenoids."9
It is very important for the health and safety of Canadians that tramadol be placed on CDSA's Schedule 1. As described in the Notice of Intent for this consultation, this change will "prevent diversion of tramadol and protect Canadians from the health risks associated with unauthorized use."1 Further, pharmacists will not be able to follow verbal prescriptions and or provide refills of tramadol, and other controls outlined in the Narcotic Control Regulations within the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.10
In conclusion, the CMA is concerned that, despite tramadol being judged low-risk in terms of addiction, it is nevertheless an opioid and carries dangers similar to its stronger counterparts. Doctors support patients in the management of acute and chronic pain, as well as addictions, and as such we have long been concerned about the harms associated with opioid use. Therefore, as part of our advocacy, the CMA supports Health Canada's intent to amend Schedule 1 to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and the Schedule to the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR) to include tramadol, its salts, isomers and derivatives and the salts and isomers of its derivatives. By doing so it will "help dispel the perception that it's somehow safer than other opioids."6
The CMA continues to urge governments to increase access to services and treatment options for addiction and pain management, as well as harm reduction.11
1 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act: Notice to interested parties - Proposal to add tramadol to Schedule I to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Schedule to the Narcotic Control Regulations Canada Gazette, Part I, 2018 Jun 16 152(24) Available: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2018/2018-06-16/html/notice-avis-eng.html#ne2 (accessed 2018 Jun 25)
2 Young JWS, Juurlink DN. Five things to know about Tramadol. CMAJ May 2013 185(5) Available: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/185/8/E352.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 31)
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Pan-Canadian Trends in the Prescribing of Opioids, 2012 to 2016. Ottawa, ON: CIHI; 2017.
4 Kahan M, Mailis-Gagnon A, Wilson L, et al. Canadian guideline for safe and effective use of opioids for chronic noncancer pain; clinical summary for family physician. Part 1: general population. Can Fam Physician November 2011 011;57:1257-66. Available: http://www.cfp.ca/content/cfp/57/11/1257.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 30)
5 World Health Organization. Tramadol Update Review Report Expert Committee on Drug Dependence. Thirty-sixth Meeting Geneva, 16-20 June 2014 Available: http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/quality_safety/6_1_Update.pdf (accessed: 2018 Aug 1)
6 Juurlink DN. Why Health Canada must reclassify tramadol as an opioid. The Globe and Mail November 27, 2017
7 Flint, A., Merali, Z., and Vaccarino, F. (Eds.). (2018). Substance use in Canada: improving quality of life: substance use and aging. Ottawa, Ont: Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Substance-Use-and-Aging-Report-2018-en.pdf#search=all%28aging%29 (accessed 2018 Aug 1)
8 Jin J. Risks of Codeine and Tramadol in Children. JAMA 2017;318(15):1514. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.13534 Available: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2657378 (accessed: 2018 Aug 2)
9 United States Food and Drug Administration. Codeine and Tramadol Can Cause Breathing Problems for Children. Consumer Update April 20, 2017 Available: https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm315497.htm (accessed: 2018 Aug 14)
10 Minister of Justice. Narcotic Control Regulations C.R.C., c. 1041. Current to July 5, 2018. Last amended on May 20, 2018 Available: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/C.R.C.,_c._1041.pdf (accessed: 2018 Aug 14)
11 Canadian Medical Association. Harms Associated with Opioids and Other Psychoactive Prescription Drugs. CMA Policy, 2015. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/policies/cma_policy_harms_associated_with_opioids_and_other_psychoactive_prescription_drugs_pd15-06-e.pdf (accessed: 2018 Aug 2).
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 (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada’s proposed regulations entitled Tobacco Products Regulations (Plain and Standardized Appearance) and an Order to amend Schedule 1 to the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act with respect to colouring agents, in Canada Gazette, Part 1.
Canada's physicians have been working for decades toward the goal of a smoke-free Canada. The CMA issued its first public warning concerning the hazards of tobacco in 1954 and has continued to advocate for the strongest possible measures to control its use and for the past 30 years we have reiterated our long-standing support for the concept of tobacco products being sold in standardized packages in several briefs and policy statements.
The CMA has been a leader in advocating for plain and standardized packaging for tobacco products for many years. We established our position in 1986 in a resolution recommending to the federal government “that all tobacco products be sold in plain packages of standard size with the words "this product is injurious to your health" printed in the same size lettering as the brand name, and that no extraneous information be printed on the package.”
We are pleased to support the proposed regulations and that they will apply to the packaging of all tobacco products and that brand colours, graphics and logos will be prohibited on packages. No exceptions, including for cigars and pipe tobacco, should be considered. These measures will assist in promoting harm reduction efforts and further the goal of reducing and eliminating smoking.
In 2017, 16.2% of Canadians aged 12 and older smoked either daily or occasionally; this is down from 17.7% in 2015. These proposed regulations will be a significant step in the goal of further reducing the smoking rate. However, there are three areas that the CMA would like to see strengthened and are described below.
Slide and Shell Packaging – Minimum package dimensions and warning surface area
The CMA supports strongly the concept of tobacco products being sold in standardized packages. We recommended that only the “slide-and-shell” style of package be authorized and that the “flip-top” package be removed. This would reduce the permitted style to one type and allow for the largest possible surface area to be used to convey health warnings and other health-related information.
With respect to the draft regulation (s.39) concerning the dimensions of the new packages when closed, the CMA recommends that the measurements for the regular and king size cigarette packages be amended to allow for more surface area for warnings and to standardize packaging regulations across all Canadian jurisdictions.1 The Quebec requirement for a warning surface area of 46.5 sq. cm should be the minimum across Canada.
To achieve that, we suggest that the new slide and shell package for regular size cigarettes have the following dimensions when it is closed:
(a) its height must be no less than 74 mm and no more than 77 mm;
(b) its width must be no less than 84 mm and no more than 87 mm for a package of 20 cigarettes, and no less 103mm and no more than 106 mm for a package of 25 cigarettes.
A similar adjustment is recommended for the width of packages of king size cigarettes when closed:
(a) its width must be no less than 83 mm and no more than 87 mm for a package of 20 cigarettes, and no less 103mm and no more than 106 mm for a package of 25 cigarettes.
In both cases, this is over and above the dimensions in s.39 (1)(a) and (b) for regular size cigarettes and s.39(2)(b) for king size cigarettes. We also recommend that the number of cigarettes permitted in both package sizes be limited to 20 and 25 respectively, reflecting the quantities sold in the current market. This would also prohibit manufacturers from adding one or two additional cigarettes as a “bonus” or “premium.”
The appearance of brand names on the packages should be in a manner that is standard for all brands. Tobacco manufacturers should not be able to include terms such as “organic” or “natural” as part of a brand name. These descriptions would convey the perception that these products are somehow better or are healthier for the consumer. As well, they may be used to evoke a lifestyle or are fashionable. Such terms and phrases should be banned in the regulations; the European Union’s Directive 2014/40/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council could serve as the guide is this instance.
Tobacco manufacturers make frequent use of subtle marketing messages to render smoking attractive and glamorous to their customers. The CMA has always supported educational and public health initiatives aimed at countering these messages. Permitting a leaflet inside packages “that warns consumers of the health hazards arising from the use of the tobacco product or that provides instructions for its use” (draft regulation s. 36.3) is a positive step but should not provide manufacturers with a potential loophole to exploit. The draft regulation should be amended to indicate that the only instance where any instructions are permitted on the leaflet are when the product has an electronic component. This would prevent manufacturers from using the leaflet as any sort of a promotional platform to minimize, for example, the impact of health warnings on the package exterior.
Canada's physicians have been working for decades toward the goal of a smoke-free Canada and we are pleased to support the proposed regulations. We recommend that the draft regulations be strengthened in the following manner:
1) The measurements for the regular and king size cigarette packages be amended to allow for more surface area for warnings and to standardize packaging regulations across all Canadian jurisdictions.
2) The number of cigarettes permitted in both package sizes be limited to 20 and 25 respectively, reflecting the quantities sold in the current market.
3) Use of terms and phrases such as “organic” and “natural” in brand names should be banned in the regulations.
4) The only instance where any instructions are permitted on the proposed leaflets are when the product has an electronic component.
Tobacco and Vaping Products Act: Tobacco Products Regulations (Plain and Standardized Appearance) Canada Gazette, Part I, 2018 Jun 23 152(25). Available: http://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2018/2018-06-23/html/reg9-eng.html (accessed 2018 Aug 7).
Statistics Canada. Smoking, 2017 Health Fact Sheets Cat. No. 82-625-X June 26, Ottawa, Ont.: Statistics Canada, 2018. Available: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/82-625-x/2018001/article/54974-eng.pdf?st=7HkJdkUB (accessed 2018 Sep 5).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Letter in response to Health Canada’s Consultation on “Plain and Standardized Packaging” for Tobacco Products. Potential Measures for Regulating the Appearance, Shape and Size of Tobacco Packages and of Tobacco Products. Document for Consultation. Ottawa: CMA; 2016. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2016-09.pdf (accessed 2018 Aug 29).
The European Parliament and The Council of the European Union. Directive 2014/40/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 April 2014 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products and repealing Directive. 2001/37/EC. Brussels: Official Journal of the European Union, 2014. Available:
https://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/health/files/tobacco/docs/dir_201440_en.pdf (accessed 2018 Sep 4).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada’s Consultation on “Plain and Standardized Packaging” for Tobacco Products. Potential Measures for Regulating the Appearance, Shape and Size of Tobacco Packages and of Tobacco Products. Document for Consultation, May 2016.
Canada's physicians have been working for decades toward the goal of a smoke-free Canada. The CMA issued its first public warning concerning the hazards of tobacco in 1954 and has continued to advocate for the strongest possible measures to control its use.
The CMA has been a leader in advocating for plain and standardized packaging for tobacco products for many years. We established our position in 1986 when we passed a resolution at our General Council in Vancouver recommending to the federal government “that all tobacco products be sold in plain packages of standard size with the words "this product is injurious to your health" printed in the same size lettering as the brand name, and that no extraneous information be printed on the package.”
Over the past 30 years we have reiterated our long-standing support for the concept of tobacco products being sold in standardized packages in several briefs and policy statements. The current Health Canada proposal will help realize that goal and the CMA supports the measures outlined in the consultation paper.
There are two elements that the CMA recommend be addressed in this consultation. The CMA recommends that only the “slide-and-shell” style of package be authorized and that the “flip-top” package be removed. This would reduce the permitted style to one standard package and allow for the largest possible surface area to be used to convey health warnings and other health-related information.
In a similar vein, the CMA recommends a single allowable length of cigarette and that a minimum diameter or width be established. The purpose is to eliminate the sale of “slims” and “super slims” cigarettes to eliminate the possibility of these products as being considered “healthier.”
While the CMA supports these measures, they must be part of the overall goal of further reducing and eliminating smoking. These measures will be an essential element of a sustained, well-funded and comprehensive program to reduce tobacco use, combining policy interventions with educational and social-marketing interventions including mass media campaigns. These programs should reflect current best practices, and be evaluated regularly for effectiveness and impact.
To that end, the CMA calls on the federal government to renew the Tobacco Strategy before it expires in March 2017. At the same time, the CMA also recommends that the government allocate adequate funding to ensure implementation of the strategy.
Finally, the consultation paper closes with some potential challenges to the implementation of these proposals. With respect to the problem of counterfeit cigarettes, all levels of government should take the strongest possible measures to control the sale and distribution of contraband tobacco, on their own and in cooperation with other affected jurisdictions.
The problem of retailers having difficulty implementing the regulations, resulting in service delays to their customers, is not really an issue related to these proposals. It is very doubtful that the retailers will experience such problems for very long and will find ways of resolving such difficulties.
As for the problem of the manufacturers continuing to innovate in order to circumvent these measures, there should be sufficient enforcement tools within the regulations that will enable Health Canada to deal with such infractions.
The Canadian Medical Association remains committed to working with governments and stakeholders to address this issue. We reiterate our long-standing support for plain and standardized packaging for tobacco products.
In summary, the CMA recommends that:
1) only the “slide-and-shell” style of package be authorized and that the “flip-top” package be removed;
2) a single allowable length of cigarette and that a minimum diameter or width be established;
3) the federal government renew the Tobacco Strategy before it expires in March 2017 and that that the government allocate adequate funding to ensure implementation of the strategy.
Jeff Blackmer, MD, MHSc, FRCPC
Vice-President, Medical Professionalism
Vice-président, Professionnalisme médicale
Canadian Medical Association
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes this opportunity to provide input to the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare (Advisory Council) on the issues set out in its discussion paper.1 The striking of the Advisory Council by the federal government is long overdue. We will focus on the questions set out in the discussion paper and draw attention to more specific issues that the Advisory Council should consider as it develops its final report.
At the outset, Canada’s physicians are very concerned about their patients’ access to prescription medicines. A June 2018 survey of the CMA member e-panel found the following:
71% reported that they always/often ask their patients if they have prescription drug coveragebefore writing a prescription;
60% reported that greater than 20% of their patients are either uncovered or inadequatelycovered for prescription drugs; and
79% reported that copayments pose affordability challenges among their patients with drugcoverage and that they resort to a variety of strategies to help them.
Indeed, when asked to pick one of three options for a national prescription program, the results were as follows:
57% - a single, national, public pharmacare plan operated by the federal government and fundedby taxes collected by the federal government;
34% - a mix of private prescription drug plans operated by private insurance companies andpublic drug plans run by the provinces and territories, supplemented by a prescription drug planprovided by the federal government for persons with high out-of-pocket drug costs; and
9% - separate regional, public pharmacare plans in each province and territory, funded by taxescollected by both the federal government and the provincial governments.
Who should be covered under national pharmacare? / How should national pharmacare be delivered?
The CMA’s position is that all Canadians should have access to medically necessary drugs regardless of their ability to pay. The challenge is how to resolve the issue of the most expedient and affordable means of achieving this in a manner that is acceptable to the provincial/territorial governments.
At the present time there are two main options that are being discussed. The first is the approach recommended by the Standing Committee on Health (HESA) that calls for the development of a common national prescription drug formulary and the amendment of the Canada Health Act to include out-of-hospital prescription drugs in the definition of insured health services; essentially a universal, single public payer program.2 The second is the “closing the gap” or “catastrophic coverage” approach recommended previously by the Kirby and Romanow commissions, and which was one of the unfulfilled commitments that First Ministers made in the 2003 Health Accord.
There is a large difference in the cost of these two approaches. Regarding the first, the federal Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) has estimated the net cost to the federal government of assuming the cost of a pharmacare program modelled on the Quebec drug formulary at $19.3 billion in 2015-16, increasing to $22.6 billion in 2020-21.3 Regarding the second approach, in 2002 the Kirby commission suggested that a catastrophic drug program with a cap of 3% of family income would cost $500 million per year.4 A 2015 study by the Conference Board estimated that a program with a cap of 3% of household income or $1,500 would cost the federal government $1.6 billion in 2016, increasing to $1.8 billion in 2020.5
There are parallels between the present situation with insurance coverage for prescription drugs and the insurance coverage for medical services that existed at the time of the Hall Commission (1961-1964).
In 1961 there were 9.6 million Canadians with some form of medical insurance or prepayment coverage, representing 53% of the population.6 Almost one-half of this number (4.5 million) were covered by the physician-sponsored not-for-profit Trans-Canada Medical Plans.7 In its 1962 brief to the Hall Commission the CMA projected that this percentage would increase to 67% by 1970 and it recommended a “closing the gap” approach for the uninsured and under-insured:
That, for the 1,520,000 persons, or approximately 8% of Canada’s population who may adjudged to be medically indigent, tax funds be used to provide comprehensive medical insurance on services…for persons in economic circumstances just superior to the identifiable indigent we recommend the application of tax funds on proof of need to permit the partial assistance which they require.8
After Hall reported in 1964 with the recommendation of first dollar public Medicare, as they say, the rest is history. More than 50 years after the initial passage of the Medical Care Act in 1966, virtually nobody would suggest that Canada got it wrong.
In the case of pharmacare today, the circumstances are somewhat different. First the prevalence of prescription drug insurance is much higher today than medical insurance was back in the early 1960s. A 2017 report from the Conference Board estimates that just 5.2% of Canadians are uninsured for prescription drugs.9 Other survey estimates indicate that roughly one in 10 Canadians report financial difficulty in filling prescriptions10, although some surveys have yielded higher results, such as a September, 2018 Abacus Data poll that found that 23% of Canadians reported that the medicines they need are unaffordable.11 Second, the role of the provincial/territorial (PT) governments paying for prescription drugs today is much greater than their role in paying for medical services prior to Medicare. In 1961 it was estimated that all public sources accounted for 12.4% of medical care expenditures.12 In 2017, PT governments accounted for an estimated 37% of prescription drug spending.13
It is also instructive to consider how Medicare ramped up from its initial spending under the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act in 1958-59 through to the first payments under the Medical Care Act a decade later, shown in Table 1. The table shows clearly that Medicare payments increased gradually over the two stages. Medicare as a share of total federal program spending increased from 1% in 1958-59 to a high of 11% in 1971-72. Interestingly, federal spending on Medicare never reached the 50/50 cost-sharing that was offered, reaching 36% in 1976-77, the year prior to the Established Programs Financing Act coming into effect. As an aside, according to the 2017 Fall Economic statement the Canada Health Transfer, valued at $37.1 billion in 2017-18 represents 12.2% of program spending.14
This history highlights the need to consider how the federal government might phase in the program recommended by HESA given the cost estimated by the PBO at $19.3 billion. This appears a daunting challenge in light of the recent increases in federal health funding, which amount to annual increases in the Canada Health Transfer of just over $1 billion plus the $11 billion allocated in the 2017 federal budget over a 10-year period for home care and mental health.15
There is no disagreement that at the present time the fiscal prospects are better for the federal than the PT governments. In its 2018 Fiscal Sustainability Report, the PBO reported that over the 2018-92 projection period the federal government could either increase annual spending or reduce taxes by 1.4% of Gross Domestic Product ($29 billion) and maintain its net debt at the current (2017) level.16 However, the government has many other spending priorities. Conversely, sub-national governments would be required to either increase taxes or reduce spending by 0.8% of GDP or ($18 billion) to maintain net debt at the current level.
The CMA has previously recommended that the federal government pursue a “close the gap” approach in partnership with the PT governments and the private insurance industry. This approach could be scaled up toward a full national public pharmacare by either or both of lowering the household income threshold or raising the level of federal contribution.17 However this has never developed any serious momentum. While the first Ministers committed in their 2003 Accord to take measures, by the end of 2005/06 to ensure that Canadians, wherever they live, have reasonable access to catastrophic coverage,18 this ran aground with the first and only progress report of the National Pharmaceuticals Strategy in 2006.19 It was
evident in the report that much of the current public funding had been shifted into the catastrophic category, ranging from $6.6 billion to $10.3 billion across the four scenarios presented. The only further public PT government pronouncement on a catastrophic drug plan was a three-point proposal set out in a backgrounder for the PT health Ministers meeting in 2008 calling for a funding formula that would: protect the autonomy of the PTs in program design; set a ceiling of 5% of income; and recognize the federal government’s role as an equal partner with 50/50 cost sharing of a total estimate cost of $5.03 billion (2006).20 The amount of $5.03 billion would have represented 62% of PT spending on prescription drugs in 2006.
More recently, an “essential medicines” approach to universal pharmacare has been put forward by Morgan and colleagues, modelled on 2015 data. Essential medicines are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as those that satisfy the priority health care needs of the population.21 WHO maintains a model list of essential medicines, and the 2017 version contains some 430 medications.22 Using a multi-step review process, Taglione and colleagues adapted the 2013 version of the WHO list to produce a shorter list of 125 medications that they assessed against the prescription audits of two Toronto-based family health teams comprising 4,777 and 35,554 patients in 2014. They reported 90.8% and 92.6% coverage with the preliminary list of 125 medications in the two sites respectively.23 The list is now called the CLEAN Meds list (http://cleanmeds.ca/).
Morgan and colleagues used 117 items from the CLEAN Meds list to model the impact of adding universal public coverage of an essential medicines list to the existing public drug plans in Canada, based on 2015 data. They reported the following base case results:
Total public expenditure would increase by $1.229 billion to $11.99 billion;
Total private expenditure would decrease by $4.272 billion to $11.172 billion; and
Public expenditure on essential medicines would be $6.14 billion, representing 51% of the total$12 billion in total public expenditure.24
In further research conducted for the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB), Morgan examined the listing of the CLEAN Meds list across the public formularies in Canada for 2015 and found that the public plans listed 93% on average of the 125 medicines, and that this increased to 98% when weighted by drug plan costs.25 The Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa has done a similar analysis of 128 medications on the CLEAN Meds list and coverage ranged across provinces from Manitoba at the bottom (with 88 covered completely and 8 requiring special authorization) to Quebec at the top with coverage of 121 items.26
This would suggest that one approach would be for the federal government to offer to cover universal coverage for essential medicines, which would cost at least $6 billion. There would be coordination issues with both public and private plans, as was the case when Ontario introduced OHIP + in early 2018 to extend coverage to persons under 25.27 This could be subsequently scaled up by adding coverage for additional medications.
In terms of how pharmacare should be delivered, that will depend on how far the federal government wants to go. Could the federal government administer a national pharmacare program? It already controls levers including drug approval by Health Canada and price-setting through the PMPRB, and it provides the majority (70%) of funding to the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies and Health which oversees the Common Drug Review.28 In May, 2015 Canadian Blood Services (CBS) CEO Dr. Graham Sher proposed that CBS could be considered as a model for national pharmacare, given its history of running a national (except Quebec) formulary of plasma protein drugs at no cost to patients.29 In his subsequent testimony to the HESA pharmacare study Sher described CBS’ success in negotiating price reductions through public tendering and bulk purchasing’ although he did also note that their formulary includes 45 brands and classes of plasma protein products, far fewer than the thousands of items in PT formularies.30 More recently Flood et al. have suggested that one option for pharmacare could involve the PT governments delegating authority to an arm’s-length agency similar to CBS that would purchase drugs and administer drug benefits.31
However, in the comuniqué following their June 2018 meeting the PT health Ministers emphasized that provinces and territories must retain responsibility for the design and delivery of public drug coverage…Quebec will maintain its own program and will receive comparable compensation if the federal government puts a pan-Canadian program in place.32 This was repeated by the Premiers in their communiqué three weeks later, which would suggest that a national agency approach is a non-starter. Moreover, none of the PT drug plans testified to the HESA pharmacare study. One issue that has received scant attention in all of the discussions about pharmacare since 2015 is the future role of private supplementary health insurance. When Medicare came in in the late 1960s, while the expenditures increased steadily, enrolment in non-profit medical insurance plans disappeared virtually overnight, dropping from 8.3 million enrollees in 1968 to 1.1 million in 1970 and none thereafter.33 This appears unlikely to happen to private insurance in the foreseeable future. For example, in the essential medicines modeling done by Morgan et al. the essential medicines would represent just 27% of total prescription drug expenditures and all public drug expenditures would account for 52% of the total.24 If the federal and PT governments were able to collectively “wave a magic wand” and come up with the PBO’s $19.3 billion and a purchasing and distribution strategy it seems likely that this would raise questions about the continued viability of the health insurance benefits industry. In their testimony to HESA, the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association did allude to an impact on the industry should prescription drugs become a public program but was not specific.34 We have been unable to locate any international comparative literature on the structure of the health benefits industry. In 2017 CLHIA’s members paid out $11.3 billion in drug benefits, representing 44% of the $25.5 billion total. Dental benefits accounted for $8.1 billion, or 32% of the total.35 Dental benefits paid by CLHIA members accounted for two-thirds (65%) of the estimated total expenditures on dental benefits in Canada in 2017; just 6% were publicly funded.13 Socio-economic inequalities in access to dental care are well-documented36, but this issue is nowhere on the public policy agenda. In addition, any transition from private to public coverage will require some administrative coordination. As noted above, Morgan et al. estimated that an essential medicines approach would reduce private spending by $4.2 billion, a large proportion of which would be currently paid for by private insurance.24 Which drugs should be covered/how much variability across jurisdictions should there be? In terms of which drugs should be covered, the CMA believes that optimal prescribing is the prescription of a drug that is:
The most clinically appropriate for the patient’s condition;
Safe and effective;
Part of a comprehensive treatment plan; and
The most cost-effective drug available to meet the patient’s needs.37
There is no dispute that private insurance companies offer wider formularies than the public drug programs. In their 2017 study the Conference Board compiled information on the number of drugs dispensed in 2015 through: both public and private plans, public plans only; and private plans only. This was presented for nine provinces, excluding PEI. Across the nine provinces, the following averages were observed:
4,878 drugs were dispensed from both public and private plans;
336 drugs were dispensed from public plans only;
1,938 drugs were dispensed from private plans only.9
On the 2018 CMA member e-panel survey, physicians were much more likely to report formulary coverage issues with their patients who with public coverage than they were for their patients with Private coverage. More than five in 10 (54%) physicians reported that they always/often have formulary coverage
issues with their publicly insured patients versus just over one in 10 (13%) for their privately insured patients.
If the federal government plans to pursue national pharmacare Canadians should be well-informed about the range of prescription drugs that will be available to them.
In terms of the variability of coverage, if pharmacare or some portion of it becomes a publicly insured service it should be offered to all Canadians under uniform terms and conditions, as specified in the CHA.
In practical terms, Morgan and colleagues have previously demonstrated that there is a high degree of commonality in the formularies across the public drug programs. Based on a review of 2006 formulary listings of 796 drugs across all provincial formularies except PEI, they found that coverage ranged from 55% to 73%, but when weighted by national retail sales the measure of formulary coverage exceeded 86% in all 9 provinces.38 More recently, in the 2017 PMPRB study of formulary coverage Morgan studied 729 drugs across all provinces and the Non-Insured Health Benefits Plan for 2015. The public plans listed an average of 79% of the 729 drugs, and this increased to 95% when drug costs were factored in.25 These findings would lend further support to the case for an essential medicines approach to national pharmacare.
Should patients pay a portion of the cost of drugs/should employers continue to play a role?
If the federal government intends to define out-of-hospital prescription drugs as an insured service under the CHA it will be necessary to address the feasibility of first dollar coverage in light of the accessibility criterion that prohibits user charges. The CMA addressed this issue in our 2016 brief to the HESA pharmacare study with reference to Scotland, which eliminated prescription charges in April, 2011.39 There are now more recent data. In the four years leading up to the elimination of prescription charges the volume of prescriptions dispensed increased by 3.6% annually. In the seven years since the charges were eliminated, the annual increase has been 1.8%; indeed between 2016/17 and 2017/18 there was a decrease of 0.06%.40 It should be added however that dispensing charges only accounted for 3% of prescription costs in 2008/09. Wales and Northern Ireland have also eliminated prescription charges for their citizens. The experiences of these countries should be examined more closely.
There has been very little research on how employers would react to the implementation of a full or partial public pharmacare plan. Ipsos conducted research among the employer community in 2012. Just under one in two (47) of respondents indicated that they would support a public program for supplementary benefits introduced by the federal government that was funded by increased taxes, but nearly nine in ten agreed that even if the government implemented a program I would recommend that our company/organization still offer a supplementary health benefits program (over and above the government offer) because it would give us an advantage in recruiting/retaining employees.41
If some form of a public pharmacare program is implemented, this will reduce the amount of drug benefits that private insurance companies are required to pay out, which should result in lower premiums for those employers who provide supplementary benefits. The implications of this in terms of how a pharmacare program might be funded have not received much scrutiny to date. However, regardless of the notionally ear-marked health taxes or premiums that are levied against businesses or individuals, Medicare has been paid for out of general tax revenues.
In conclusion, the initial modeling study published by Morgan et al. in 201542 has resulted in welcome attention to the longstanding issue of access to prescription drugs for Canadians who are either uninsured or under-insured. However the discussions have been light on how we could transition to a situation where Canadians can access prescription drugs on the same basis as they access medical and hospital services. This would require concerted discussion between the federal and PT governments and
the health insurance benefits industry and this has not yet occurred. The discussions since 2015 have mainly ignored the issue of highly expensive drugs for rare diseases and very expensive drugs for more common diseases, such as biologic drugs for rheumatoid arthritis. The CMA is pleased to see that HESA is launching a study on the barriers to access to treatment and drugs for Canadians with rare diseases and disorders.43
The Canadian Medical Association recommends that the Advisory Committee on the Implementation of National Pharmacare:
1.Engage with the federal and provincial/territorial governments and the health insuranceindustry on the feasibility of a universal federally funded “essential medicines”prescription drug plan as a scalable approach to the implementation of a nationalpharmacare plan.
2.Engage the business community and the health insurance industry on the question of thecontinued viability of the provision of supplementary health benefits (e.g. dental care)should a national pharmacare plan be implemented.
3.Study the international experience of Scotland and other countries with respect to theprovision of first dollar coverage of prescription drugs.
Table 1. The Evolution of Medicare ($ million) Year HIDS Medical Care Act Total program spend Medicare as a % of total program Total hospital spend Total physician spend Medicare as a % of total H&P 1958-59 54.7 0 4716 1% 640.608 301.337 6%
14% 1960-61 189.4 0 5160.5 4% 834.932 355.014 16%
22% 1962-63 336.7 0 5652.5 6% 1031.749 406.075 23%
24% 1964-65 433.9 0 6167 7% 1273.38 495.657 25%
16% 1966-67 397.4 0 7589.2 5% 1637.647 605.2 18%
18% 1968-69 561.9 33 9258 6% 2179.906 788.089 20%
24% 1970-71 734.3 400.5 11262 10% 2775.391 1031.555 30%
33% 1972-73 960.5 630.8 16324 10% 3384.801 1375.127 33%
33% 1974-75 1307.6 762.7 26037 8% 4579.041 1647.025 33%
34% 1976-77 2030.5 1003.6 34209 9% 6357.3 2071 36%
Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services (HIDs) and Medical Care Act – Public Accounts of Canada Issues 1958-59 – 1976-77. Spending by National Health and Welfare.
Total program spend – Public Accounts of Canada Issues 1958-59-1976-77. Budgetary Expenditures Classified by Function – Total spend less public debt charges.
Total hospital and physician spend – calendar year data 1958 – 1975 in Statistics Canada, Historical Statistics of Canada. Series B504-513 Health expenditures, Canada, 1926 to 1975. 1976 – Canadian Institute for Health Information. National Health Expenditures Data Tables Table A.3.1.1.
1 Government of Canada. Towards implementation of national pharmacare. Discussion paper. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/documents/corporate/publications/council_on_pharmacare_EN.PDF. Accessed 10/02/18.
2 House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Pharmacare now: prescription medicine coverage for all Canadians. http://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/421/HESA/Reports/RP9762464/hesarp14/hesarp14-e.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18.
3 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Federal cost of a national pharmacare program. https://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/web/default/files/Documents/Reports/2017/Pharmacare/Pharmacare_EN_2017_11_07.pdf. Accessed10/02/18.
4 Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. The health of Canadians – the federal role. Volume six: recommendations for reform. https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/372/soci/rep/repoct02vol6-e.pdf. Accessed 10/-2/18.5 Conference Board of Canada. Federal policy action to support the health care needs of Canada’s aging population. https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/conference-board-rep-sept-2015-embargo-en.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18.6 Berry C. Voluntary medical insurance and prepayment. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1965.7 Clarkson G. The role of Trans-Canada Medical plans in Canadian medical insurance. News & Views on the Economics of Medicine 1966, Number 136.8 Canadian Medical Association. Submission of the Canadian Medical Association to the Royal Commission on Health Services. Toronto, 1962.9 Conference Board of Canada. Understanding the gap: a pan-Canadian analysis of prescription drug insurance coverage. https://www.conferenceboard.ca/temp/7bef4501-6ba6-4527-8b99-8b788c461d14/9326_Understanding-the-Gap__RPT.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18.10 Canadian Institute for Health Information. How Canada compares: Results from the Commonwealth Fund’s 2016 International Health Policy Survey of Adults in 11 Countries.https://www.cihi.ca/sites/default/files/document/commonwealth-fund-2016-chartbook-en-web-rev.pptx. Accessed10/02/18.11 Abacus Data. Canadian perspectives on pharmacare. http://abacusdata.ca/canadian-perspectives-on-pharmacare/. Accessed 10/02/18.12 Royal Commission on Health Services. 1964—Report Volume 1. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1964.13 Canadian Institute for Health Information. National health expenditure trends 1975 to 2017: data tables.https://www.cihi.ca/sites/default/files/document/series_b-nhex2017-en.xlsx. Accessed 10/02/18.14 Department of Finance Canada. Progress for the middle class. Fall economic statement 2017.https://www.budget.gc.ca/fes-eea/2017/docs/statement-enonce/fes-eea-2017-eng.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18.15 Department of Finance Canada. Building a strong middle class. Budget plan 2017. https://www.budget.gc.ca/2017/docs/plan/budget-2017-en.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18. 16 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Fiscal sustainability report 2018. https://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/web/default/files/Documents/Reports/2018/FSR%20Sept%202018/FSR_2018_25SEP2018_EN_2.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18. 17 Canadian Medical Association. Funding the continuum of care. https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/PD10-02-e.pdf. Accessed 1-/-2/18. 18 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. 2003 First Ministers’ Accord on Health Care Renewal. http://www.scics.ca/wp-content/uploads/CMFiles/800039004_e1GTC-352011-6102.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18. 19 National Pharmaceuticals Strategy. National Pharmaceuticals Strategy progress report. June 2006. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/migration/hc-sc/hcs-sss/alt_formats/hpb-dgps/pdf/pubs/2006-nps-snpp/2006-nps-snpp-eng.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18. 20 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat. Annual conference of provincial-territorial Ministers of health. Backgrounder: National pharmaceutical strategy decision points. http://www.scics.ca/en/product-produit/backgrounder-national-pharmaceutical-strategy-decision-points/. Accessed 10/02/18. 21World Health Organization. Essential medicines and health products. http://www.who.int/medicines/services/essmedicines_def/en/. Accessed 10/02/18. 22World Health Organization. WHO model list of essential medicines. 20th list (Amended August 2017). http://www.who.int/medicines/publications/essentialmedicines/20th_EML2017.pdf?ua=1. Accessed 10/02/18. 23 Taglione M, Ahmad H, Slater M, Aliarzadeh B, Glazier R, Laupacis A, Persaud N. Development of a preliminary essential medicines list for Canada. CMAJ Open 2017, 5(1):E137-43. 24 Morgan S, Li W, Yau B, Persaud N. Estimated effects of adding universal public coverage of an essential medicines list to existing public drug plans in Canada. CMAJ 2017;189(8):E295-302. 25 Patented Medicine Prices Review Board. Alignment among public formularies in Canada. Part 1: General overview. http://www.pmprb-cepmb.gc.ca/CMFiles/NPDUIS/NPDUIS_formulary_report_part_1_en.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18. 26 Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy. National pharmacare in Canada: Choosing a path forward. http://www.ifsd.ca/web/default/files/Presentations/Reports/18006%20-%20National%20Pharmacare%20in%20Canada-%20Choosing%20a%20Path%20Forward%20-%2016%20July%202018%20-%20Final.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18. 27 CTV News. Ottawa dad raising red flag about OHIP+. https://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/ottawa-dad-raising-red-flag-about-ohip-1.3759115. Accessed 10/02/18. 28 Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. Financial statements March 31, 2018. https://www.cadth.ca/sites/default/files/corporate/planning_documents/CADTH-FS-FY17-18-e.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18. 29 Sher G. Canadian Blood Services as a model for national pharmacare. National Post, April 15, 2015. https://blood.ca/en/media/graham-sher-canadian-blood-services-as-a-model-for-national-pharmacare. Accessed 10/02/18.
30 House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Evidence. Monday, May 2, 2016. https://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/421/HESA/Evidence/EV8226056/HESAEV09-E.PDF. Accessed 10/02/18. 31 Flood C, Thomas B, Moten A, Fafard P. Universal pharmacare and federalism: policy options for Canada. http://irpp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Universal-Pharmacare-and-Federalism-Policy-Options-for-Canada.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18. 32 Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Centre. Conference of provincial and territorial Ministers of health. Provincial/territorial health Ministers meeting communiqué. June 28, 2018. http://www.scics.ca/en/product-produit/news-release-provincial-territorial-health-ministers-meeting-communique/. Accessed 10/02/18. 33 Statistics Canada. Historical Statistics of Canada. Series 8514-516. Estimated enrolment in non-profit medical insurance plans, Canada, at 31 December, 1937 to 1975. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/11-516-x/pdf/5500093-eng.pdf?st=W5ksoTqs. Accessed 10/02/18. 34 House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Evidence. Monday, May 9, 2016. https://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/421/HESA/Evidence/EV8251913/HESAEV10-E.PDF. Accessed 10/02/18. 35 Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association. Canadian life and health insurance facts 2018 edition. https://www.clhia.ca/web/clhia_lp4w_lnd_webstation.nsf/resources/Factbook_2/$file/2018+FB+EN.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18. 36 Farmer J, Phillips R, Singhal S, Quinonez C. Inequalities in oral health: understanding the contributions of education and income. Canadian Journal of Public Health 2017;108(3):3240-5. 37 Canadian Medical Association. A prescription for optimal prescribing. http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-01.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18. 38 Morgan S, Hanley G, Raymond C, Blais R. Breadth, depth and agreement among provincial formularies in Canada. Healthcare Policy 2009;4(4):e162-84. 39 Canadian Medical Association. National pharmacare in Canada: getting there from here. https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/submissions/national-pharmacare-canada-e.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18. 40 ISD Scotland. Data Tables Prescribing and Medicines. Volume and cost (NHSScotland) (Financial years 2008-09-2017/18). http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Prescribing-and-Medicines/Publications/data-tables2017.asp?id=2204#2204. Accessed 10/02/18. 41 Ipsos Reid. Two in ten (18%) Canadians have no supplementary health coverage. https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/publication/2012-08/5714.pdf. Accessed 10/02/18. 42 Morgan S, Law M, Daw J, Abraham L, Martin D. Estimated cost of universal public coverage of prescription drugs in Canada. CMAJ 2015;187(7):491-7. 43 House of Commons Standing Committee on Health Minutes of Proceedings, Meeting No. 100 April 18, 2018. http://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/HESA/meeting-100/minutes. Accessed 10/02/18.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to make this submission in response to the consultation led by the federal Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation, which has the objective of providing advice to the government on the design of a new framework for marijuana for non-medical, or recreational, purposes.
On behalf of its more than 83,000 members and the Canadian public, the CMA performs a wide variety of functions. Key functions include advocating for health promotion and disease/injury prevention policies and strategies, advocating for access to quality health care, facilitating change within the medical profession, and providing leadership and guidance to physicians to help them influence, manage and adapt to changes in health care delivery.
The CMA has over 83,000 physician-members. Its mission is helping physicians care for patients and its vision is to be the leader in engaging and serving physicians, and the national voice for the highest standards for health and health care.
The CMA is a voluntary professional organization representing the majority of Canada’s physicians and comprising 12 provincial and territorial divisions and over 60 national medical organizations.
The Government of Canada has made a commitment to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to marijuana in response to the high rates of marijuana use among Canadians, particularly youtha 1 2, despite its current illegal status. The existing approach to drugs has resulted in high rates of criminal records for non-violent drug offences each yearb 3, affecting disadvantaged groups disproportionately. Organized crime is supported by these high levels of use. This situation has resulted in considerable harm to society.
a Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal substance in Canada. 43% of Canadians claim to have used marijuana at some point in their life, despite almost a century of prohibition. Canadian youth has the highest rate of marijuana use among 29 developed countries. Almost a quarter of the population aged 15 to 24 years reported past-year use.
b According to a Stats Canada report, there were 73 thousand marijuana-related criminal offences (67% of all police-reported drug offences) in 2013.
1 Rotermann M, Langlois, K. Prevalence and correlates of marijuana use in Canada, 2012. Health Reports. 2015 Apr;26(4):10-5. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 82-003-X. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2015004/article/14158-eng.pdf (accessed August 12, 2016).
2 UNICEF Office of Research. Child Well-being in Rich Countries: A Comparative overview. Innocenti Report Card 11. Florence: UNICEF Office of Research; 2013. Available: https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/rc11_eng.pdf (accessed August 12, 2016).
3 Cotter A, Greenland J, Karam M. Drug-Related Offences in Canada, 2013. Juristat. 2015 Jun 25;1-38. Catalogue no. 85-002-X. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2015001/article/14201-eng.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 11).
4 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 July 25, 2016).
5 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health risks and harms associated with the use of marijuana. CMA Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2014. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/Brief-Marijuana-Health_Committee_May27-2014-FINAL.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 12).
Public opinion in Canada and internationally has risen steadily in support of the removal of criminal sanctions for simple marijuana possession, as well as for the legalization and regulation of marijuana.
The federal Task Force has developed a discussion paper, Toward the Legalization, Regulation and Restriction of Access to Marijuana4, which includes the following objectives for the new regime for legal access to marijuana:
Protect young Canadians by keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and youth;
Keep profits out of the hands of criminals, particularly organized crime;
Reduce the burdens on police and the justice system associated with simple possession of marijuana offences;
Prevent Canadians from entering the criminal justice system and receiving criminal records for simple marijuana possession offences;
Protect public health and safety by strengthening, where appropriate, laws and enforcement measures that deter and punish more serious marijuana offences, particularly selling and distributing to children and youth, selling outside of the regulatory framework, and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana;
Ensure Canadians are well-informed through sustained and appropriate public health campaigns, and, for youth in particular, ensure that risks are understood;
Establish and enforce a system of strict production, distribution and sales, taking a public health approach, with regulation of quality and safety (e.g., child-proof packaging, warning labels), restriction of access, and application of taxes, with programmatic support for addiction treatment, mental health support and education programs;
Continue to provide access to quality-controlled marijuana for medical purposes consistent with federal policy and Court decisions; and
Conduct ongoing data collection, including gathering baseline data, to monitor the impact of the new framework.
The CMA has longstanding concerns about the health risks associated with consuming marijuana, particularly in its smoked form.5 6 Children and youth are especially at risk for marijuana-related harms, given their brain is undergoing rapid, extensive development.
6 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: Canadian Medical Association; 2002. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/BriefPDF/BR2002-08.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 16).
7 Volkow ND, Baler RD, Compton WM, Weiss SR. Adverse health effects of marijuana use. N Engl J Med. 2014 Jun 5;370(23):2219–2227. Available: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827335/pdf/nihms762992.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 15).
8 Wilkinson ST, Yarnell S, Radhakrishnan R, Ball SA, D'Souza DC. Marijuana Legalization: Impact on Physicians and Public Health. Annu Rev Med. 2016 Jan 14;67:453-466. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev-med-050214-013454. (accessed 2016 Aug 12).
9 World Health Organization (WHO). Management of substance abuse: Cannabis. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2016. Available: http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/facts/cannabis/en/ (accessed 2016 Aug 16).
10 Hall W, Degenhardt L. Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. The Lancet, 2009 Oct 23;374(9698):1383-91. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61037-0. (accessed 2016 Aug 12).
11 Statistics Canada. Canadian Community Health Survey – Mental Health, 2012. The Daily. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2013 Sep 18. Component of Statistics Canada catalogue no. 11-001-X. p. 1-2. Available: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/130918/dq130918a-eng.htm (accessed 2016 Aug 12).
12 Shenfeld A. Growing Their Own Revenue: The Fiscal Impacts of Cannabis Legalization. Economic Insights. Toronto: CIBC World Markets Inc.; 2016 Jan 28. p. 7-8. Available: http://research.cibcwm.com/economic_public/download/eijan16.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 11).
13 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA). Cannabis Regulation: Lessons Learned In Colorado and Washington State. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 2015. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Cannabis-Regulation-Lessons-Learned-Report-2015-en.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 15).
14 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA). Marijuana for Non-Therapeutic Purposes: Policy Considerations. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 2014. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Non-Therapeutic-Marijuana-Policy-Brief-2014-en.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 15).
15 Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee. Monitoring Health Concerns Related to Marijuana in Colorado: 2014. Denver (CO): Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; 2015. Available: http://www2.cde.state.co.us/artemis/hemonos/he1282m332015internet/he1282m332015internet01.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 16).
16 Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy. Pathways Report: Policy Options for Regulating Marijuana in California. Denver (CO): Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy; 2015. Available: https://www.safeandsmartpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/BRCPathwaysReport.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 15).
17 Walsh J, Ramsey G. Uruguay’s Drug Policy: Major Innovations, Major Challenges. Washington (DC): Brookings Institution, Washington Office on Latin America; 2015. Available: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Walsh-Uruguay-final.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 15).
18 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Cannabis Policy Framework. Toronto: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; 2014. Available: http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/about_camh/influencing_public_policy/documents/camhcannabispolicyframework.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 10).
Our understanding of the health effects of marijuana continues to evolve. c 7 8 9 Marijuana use is linked to several adverse health outcomes, including addiction, cardiovascular and pulmonary effects (e.g., chronic bronchitis), mental illness, and other problems, including cognitive impairment and reduced educational attainment. There seems to be an increased risk of chronic psychosis disorders, including schizophrenia, in persons with a predisposition to such disorders. The use of high potency products, higher frequency of use and early initiation are predictors of worse health outcomes.
c Unlike pharmaceuticals, marijuana is a complex combination of more than 100 different chemicals. The main psychoactive component is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but other components, such as cannabidiol (CBD), also act on the central nervous system and may modify the effects of THC. The concentration of these compounds can vary substantially, making it difficult to characterize the specific positive or negative health effects of marijuana, especially in uncontrolled and epidemiological studies. As well, the average content of THC in marijuana has increased substantially in the last 30 years. For these and other reasons, research and attribution of harm and benefit are challenging.
d Similar estimates for other substances are 15% for alcohol, 23% for heroin and 32% for nicotine.
e Abuse is characterized by a pattern of recurrent use where at least one of the following occurs: failure to fulfill major roles at work, school or home, use in physically hazardous situations, recurrent alcohol or drug related problems, and continued use despite social or interpersonal problems caused or intensified by alcohol or drugs.
f Dependence is when at least three of the following occur in the same 12 month period: increased tolerance, withdrawal, increased consumption, unsuccessful efforts to quit, a lot of time lost recovering or using, reduced activity, and continued use despite persistent physical or psychological problems caused or intensified by alcohol or drugs.
The lifetime risk of dependence to marijuana is estimated at about 9%d, increasing to almost 17% in those who initiate use in adolescence.10 In 2012, about 1.3% of people aged 15 and over met the criteria for marijuana abusee or dependencef – double that of any other drugs – due to the high prevalence of marijuana use. 11
Another area of great concern is that of impairment and the operation of vehicles, as well as the performing of work in an unsafe manner. There is an increased risk of motor vehicle collisions up to 6 hours after use, depending on method of use, dose and tolerance. As well, experience in the U.S. and even in Canada has shown that there can be an increased risk of unintentional overdoses in children due to marijuana edibles.
The CMA’s overarching recommendation to the federal government is that the government must take a broad public health policy approach to address the legalization and regulation of marijuana for non-medical use. A public health approach would place an increased focus on: preventing drug abuse and dependence; the availability of assessment, counselling and treatment services for those who wish to stop using; and harm reduction to increase the safety for those who are using.
This approach seeks to ensure that the harms associated with enforcement are not out of proportion to the direct harms caused by substance abuse. Individuals with drug dependency should be diverted, whenever possible, from the criminal justice system to treatment and rehabilitation. Monitoring, surveillance and research of marijuana use are essential to better understand the short and long term harms as well as to develop policy options to address prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement.
There are huge economic pressures at play that need to be considered in a new regime and it is essential that public health objectives be central to the process of legalization and regulation. A recent report12
estimates that it could create a $10 billion a year industry in Canada, including production and distribution. As well, legalizing marijuana will bring in considerable tax revenue, and governments could collect as much as 50% or more of that if the rate of taxation is high, as in the ‘sin’ tax on the sale of alcohol and tobacco. As well, legalization could also lead to substantial savings in enforcement and incarceration. Given these pressures by private corporations, governments and other lobby groups, it is essential that the federal and provincial/territorial governments be held accountable to public health objectives of decreasing harms of marijuana use, particularly in children and youth.
The CMA’s submission does not address the question of whether marijuana should be legal; the current federal government has already made it clear that this is their intent. Instead, this submission focuses on specific recommendations from physicians as they apply to the regulatory framework, with the objective of protecting individual and public health. It is based on input from CMA’s members, discussions with key stakeholders and experts from specialty societies, a review of reports on the experience in jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana for non-medical use, such as Colorado, Washington and Uruguay13 14 15 16 17, as well as expert literature18 19.
19 George T, Vaccarino F. (eds.). Substance abuse in Canada: The effects of cannabis use during adolescence. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; 2015. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Effects-of-Cannabis-Use-during-Adolescence-Report-2015-en.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 16).
20 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Survey. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2016. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/brfss/ (accessed 2016 Aug 10).
21 Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA). Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado. The Impact. 2014 Aug;2:1-166. Available: http://www.rmhidta.org/html/august%202014%20legalization%20of%20mj%20in%20colorado%20the%20impact.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 15).
22 Monte AA, Zane RD, Heard KJ. The implications of marijuana legalization in Colorado. JAMA. 2015;313(3):241-42. Available: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4404298/pdf/nihms679104.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 15).
23 Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee. Monitoring Health Concerns Related to Marijuana in Colorado: 2014. Denver (CO): Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; 2015. Available: http://www2.cde.state.co.us/artemis/hemonos/he1282m332015internet/he1282m332015internet01.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 16).
24 Cunningham JA, Blomqvist J, Koski-Jannes A, Raitasalo K. Societal Images of Cannabis use: Comparing Three Countries. Harm Reduct J. 2012 Jun 18;9:21. Available: http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1477-7517-9 -21.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 15).
25 Porath-Waller A, Brown J, Frigon A, Clark H. What Canadian youth think about cannabis: Technical report. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; 2013. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-What-Canadian-Youth-Think-about-Cannabis-2013-en.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 12).
26 Health Canada. Canadian Addiction Survey (CAS): A national survey of Canadians' use of alcohol and other drugs: Public opinion, attitudes and knowledge. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2006. Available: http://publications.gc.ca/site/eng/349980/publication.html (accessed 2016 Aug 15).
27 Fischer B, Jeffries V, Hall W, Room R, Goldner E, Rehm J. Lower Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines for Canada (LRCUG): A Narrative Review of Evidence and Recommendations. Can J Public Health. 2011 Sep-Oct;102(5):324-27. Available: http://journal.cpha.ca/index.php/cjph/article/view/2758 (accessed 2016 Aug 16).
28 Health Canada. Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey (CADUMS). Ottawa: Health Canada; 2013. Available: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/drugs-drogues/stat/_2012/summary-sommaire-eng.php (accessed 2016 Aug 12).
29 Young MM, Student Drug Use Surveys Working Group (SDUS). Cross-Canada report on student alcohol and drug use: Technical report. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse; 2011. Available:
http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/2011_CCSA_Student_Alcohol_and_Drug_Use_en.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 16).
30 Young, M.M. et al. (2011) Cross-Canada report on student alcohol and drug use: Technical report. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/2011_CCSA_Student_Alcohol_and_Drug_Use_en.pdf (accessed 2016 Aug 16).
The Task Force’s discussion paper presents the potential elements of a new system, which were grouped into five themes: 1) minimizing harms of use; 2) establishing a safe and responsible production system; 3) designing an appropriate distribution system; 4) enforcing public safety and protection; and 5) accessing marijuana for medical purposes. Each theme includes questions on specific concerns for which the Task Force is seeking input. Presented below are the CMA’s recommendations to the federal government for each section of the discussion paper. A summary of all recommendations is listed at the end of the brief.
The CMA recommends that the federal government take a broad public health policy approach in legalizing marijuana for non-medical purposes, and that it be held accountable to these public health objectives.
1. MINIMIZING HARMS OF USE
1.1. Do you believe that these measures are appropriate to achieve the overarching objectives to minimize harms, and in particular to protect children and youth? Are there other actions which the government should consider enacting alongside these measures?
Legalization and strict regulation of marijuana for recreational use seeks to reduce health and social harms, particularly in higher risk groups; however, with the increased access, there could be an inverse effect, with the potential that harms could be intensified. There is also the considerable risk that the degree of “normalization” of use that already exists could increase.
Colorado has seen an increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths and an increase in the use of health care due to intoxication, burns and cyclic vomiting syndrome, as well as overdoses in children due to marijuana in edibles.20 21 22
Many of the regulatory interventions used in reducing tobacco normalization and rates, as well as controlling the harms of alcohol at a population level, are proposed in the Task Force’s discussion paper as part of a framework for marijuana legalization and regulation. These include:
1) Minimum age for legal purchase with the objective of protecting children and youth, particularly since the risks of marijuana use are higher in ages where the brain is still in development.
2) Advertising and marketing restrictions to minimize the profile and attractiveness of products, seeking to prevent or at least reduce the “normalization” of use in society, particularly among children and youth.
3) Taxation and pricing to discourage use and provide the government with revenues to offset related costs (such as substance abuse services, law enforcement and regulatory oversight).
4) Restrictions on marijuana products, particularly with regards to the THC component, given higher concentration products have added risks and unknown long term impacts, with most impact on children and youth. Restrictions would include maximum THC limits and prohibition of high-potency products.
5) Restrictions on types of marijuana products, particularly edibles, to prevent accidental or unintentional ingestion, particularly by children. Limits would be placed on dosing and potency.
6) Limitations on quantities for personal possession, with the objective of helping to reduce demand and to minimize opportunities for resale of legally purchased marijuana on the illicit market (particularly to children and youth).
7) Limitation on where marijuana can be sold in order to minimize harms.
Despite the merit of each of the proposed measures, collectively these may not adequately protect children and youth. A pathway to better implementation would require:
. Taking the time to adequately prepare for the implementation, including developing the capacity to meet demand, administer the system, enforce regulations and deal with adverse effects. A phased-in approach or pilots in certain jurisdictions should be considered before going nationwide.
. Learning from the lessons gained in jurisdictions that have made changes in drug policy, including the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington, Uruguay, the Netherlands and Portugal.
. Learning from successes and failures in the regulation of tobacco and alcohol, with respect to the objectives of reducing or eliminating use for all Canadians (tobacco) and promoting responsible use among adults, while prohibiting use in youth (alcohol).
. Developing the capacity to carry out a rigorous national-level evaluation of the impact of legalization of marijuana on the health and safety of Canadians. Data collection and analysis cannot be conducted if national surveillance systems do not exist. Important data to be monitored include marijuana-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations, rates of drug-impaired driving, recreational injuries, unintentional poisonings, product contamination, overconsumption and food-borne illness from edible products.23
. Support for a research agenda to better understand harms of marijuana, particularly among vulnerable groups such as children and youth, pregnant women, people with mental illness and chronic diseases. Research should also support policy interventions, including those to address second hand smoke, harm reduction measures, treatments and effective education strategies.
The CMA is supportive of the regulatory interventions proposed by the government to reduce the harms, regarding:
Marketing and advertising: The CMA recommends that the marketing and advertising of marijuana be prohibited, as is currently the case for tobacco and cigarettes. Measures such as plain packaging, prohibition of appealing flavours and shapes, adequate content and potency labelling, as well as health warnings, should be incorporated to discourage experimentation. A package insert should outline health risks and supporting references, the need for securing the product in the home, preventing access by youth and children, and recommendations not to drive or work with hazardous chemicals or equipment. The insert should include information detailing the health and social consequences, including legal penalties for providing marijuana to those under a designated minimum age for purchasing.
Taxation and pricing: Taxation and pricing levers should be used to discourage use, with revenues clearly earmarked for covering the health and social costs of legalization. In Colorado, for example, revenue is used in substance abuse programs, regulation of marijuana and for public school construction. However, as with tobacco, final pricing must be such as to discourage the illegal production and trafficking of marijuana. Most of future tax revenues should be redistributed to the provinces and territories. This is because they will feel the impact of legalization directly as they have jurisdiction over health care, education, social and other services, as well as responsibility for enforcement.
Restrictions on the potency of marijuana products: Experience in jurisdictions where marijuana has been legalized has shown that restrictions on the potency of products (i.e., THC limits) are necessary, given the higher risks of harm associated with higher potencies. Prohibition of high potency products is important. However, there is a risk that the prohibition could lead to an illicit market of more potent marijuana preparations.
Restrictions on types of marijuana products: It is essential that restrictions be placed on the dosing of products, particularly of edibles, given the incidence of accidental overdoses of children. Content in a package should not be sufficient to cause an overdose. Because of these incidents, child proof packaging should also be required.
Limitations on quantities for personal possession: Placing maximum limits on quantities that can be purchased would help to reduce the opportunities for illegal distribution and sale, especially to those below the established minimum age limit.
The proposed measures related to minimum age for legal purchase and limitation on where marijuana can be sold are discussed in Sections 1.2 and 3, respectively, below.
In addition to the regulatory interventions proposed in the “Minimizing Harms of Use” section of the discussion paper, others are equally fundamental, including:
A clear process for identifying, testing and charging individuals who are driving under the influence of marijuana should be in place prior to legalization (see further discussion under Section 4).
Public education: The use of public education tools to inform youth and families of the risks and harms of marijuana use is necessary. Awareness of Canadians of the harms of marijuana is generally low.24 25 26 Youth tend to emphasize the drug’s ability to help them focus, relax, sleep, reduce violent behaviour and improve creativity. There are also many dangerous myths, such as
that marijuana can counter the harmful effects of smoking tobacco by preventing cancer or that marijuana makes people better drivers. There is also a perception amongst some that marijuana is not an addictive substance because it is “natural”.
However, traditional public campaigns and educational programs for youth have been shown to be minimally effective. There is a need for more effective programs, including those that incorporate skills-based training that teaches youth how to handle situations that involve drugs and/or alcohol.
Harm reduction measures, such as those outlined in the Lower Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines for Canadag 27 should be discussed, particularly with teens, in an effort to minimize harm, even if they choose to continue to use.
g These include delaying use until early adulthood; avoiding frequent use; preferring smokeless delivery systems; using less potent products; not driving after use; and abstaining from use when at higher risk of cannabis-related problems (people with a personal or family history of psychosis, cardiovascular problems and pregnant women).
It is important that these education programs be designed by governments and health professionals, and not marijuana producers or distributers. However, costs of such programs could come from the profits of such industries.
Expanded access and immediate availability of substance use, mental health and social stabilization services is another very important measure to minimize harm. These services are currently difficult to access in the community and have long wait times; in many parts of Canada they are simply unavailable. A plan to expand training programs in addiction medicine and access to treatment should be in place prior to legalization.
Enforcement of regulations: Licensed producers and retail outlets should be held accountable in their compliance with policies, guidance and good practices to prevent contaminants that may cause additional health issues if consumed, particularly by minors (See also Section 3).
1.2. What are your views on the minimum age for purchasing and possessing marijuana? Should the minimum age be consistent across Canada, or is it acceptable that there be variation amongst provinces and territories?
In order to achieve the first objective of legalization, i.e., to protect young Canadians by keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and youth, a minimum age for its purchase and possession must be adopted. This has been an important measure in tobacco and alcohol regulations. Existing evidence on marijuana points to the importance of protecting the brain during its development. Since that development is only finalized by about 25 years of age, this would be an ideal minimum age based on currently accepted scientific evidence, although knowledge on brain development is still evolving.
However, marijuana use among youth (ages 15 to 24) is still double that of the general population, at 20%, even though there has been a slight decrease in use in recent years.28 A 2011 report on student alcohol and drug use in Canada showed that of those youth who had used marijuana in the past 3 months, 25% had used it daily. The average age of initiation was 16.1 years. In some provinces, about 50% of students in grade 12 have reported using marijuana in the past year.29
A minimum age lower than 25 years should be considered in order to deter youth from seeking marijuana from organized crime groups, where they are exposed to other more dangerous drugs, sometimes even laced into marijuana.
In jurisdictions where marijuana has been legalized, the minimum age has been set at the same minimum age for purchase of alcohol, i.e., 21 years. In Canada, the age limits for acquiring alcohol and tobacco are either 18 or 19 years of age, depending on the province or territory. In a survey carried out with a sample of the CMA membership, 25.4% recommended age 21, 20.3% age 25, 19.7% age 18, and 14.2% age 19.
The CMA recommends that the minimum age should be set at 21, and that quantities and the potency of marijuana be more restricted to those under age 25 to discourage use and sharing with underage friends. The CMA recommends that the minimum age be established at the national level, and federally regulated, to avoid differences at the provincial/territorial level. This would reduce problems with enforcement in areas near provincial/territorial borders.
SECTION 1 RECOMMENDATIONS:
The CMA recommends that the federal government incorporate the following measures to support improved implementation of the legalization of marijuana:
a) Ensure sufficient time to adequately prepare for the implementation of the legalized regime, including a phased-in approach and piloting legalization in smaller regions prior to national roll-out;
b) Assess international experience with legalization and incorporate lessons-learned from other jurisdictions into Canada’s approach;
c) Assess the domestic experience in the regulation of tobacco and alcohol against meeting the national objectives for each substance and incorporate lessons-learned from those experiences; and,
d) Develop capacity for national surveillance to ensure rigorous national-level monitoring and evaluation.
e) Support for a research agenda.
The CMA recommends that the federal government prohibit the marketing and advertising of marijuana and that packaging requirements include plain packaging, potency labelling and health warnings. The CMA further recommends that the federal government prohibit flavouring and shapes.
The CMA recommends that the federal government employ taxation and pricing levers to discourage consumption and that the revenues of this taxation be allocated to the provinces and territories and clearly allocated for health and social services.
The CMA recommends that the federal government establish potency restrictions to reduce the harms associated with higher potencies.
The CMA recommends that the federal government establish dosing restrictions on marijuana products, notably edibles.
The CMA recommends that the federal government establish maximum limits on quantities of marijuana that can be purchased.
The CMA recommends that the federal government employ effective public education tools, including skills-based training, to inform youth and families of the risks and harms of marijuana usage.
The CMA recommends that the federal government expand access and availability of substance use, mental health and social stabilization services simultaneously to the legalization of marijuana.
As part of this initiative, the CMA recommends that the federal government implement a plan to expand training programs in addiction medicine.
The CMA recommends that the federal government set the minimum age of purchase and consumption at 21 and that quantities and potency be restricted for those under the age of 25.
The CMA recommends that the federal government establish the minimum age at the national level to ensure consistency across all jurisdictions.
2. ESTABLISHING A SAFE AND RESPONSIBLE PRODUCTION SYSTEM
2.1. What are your views on the most appropriate production model? Which production model would best meet consumer demand while ensuring that public health and safety objectives are achievable? What level and type of regulation is needed for producers?
There will be no perfect production model, with each one having its risks and benefits. The CMA would support a tightly regulated competitive model. A set number of licenses should be granted to producers, who are part of a competitive system, and there should be a reasonable cost associated to offset regulatory expenses. Producers would have to comply with policies and guidelines set by Health Canada, and be subject to inspections.
It is fundamental that commercialization is rigorously controlled through taxation, regulation, monitoring and advertising controls.
2.2. To what extent, if any, should home cultivation be allowed in a legalized system? What, if any, government oversight should be put in place?
The CMA does not recommend home cultivation in a legalized system for non-medical purposes, as it presents many challenges to municipal, enforcement and public health authorities, particularly given the potentially high number of homes that could seek to cultivate marijuana.
There are many health and safety hazards in cultivation, such as high humidity and temperatures, risk of fire, as well as the use of hazardous chemicals, including pesticides used for the control of fungi, bacteria and insects. There is little quality control regarding contamination and potency of the product. As well, home cultivation has an enhanced risk of abuse, if individuals use the production for sale rather than exclusively for personal use. Access to marijuana by children and youth is also a serious concern with home cultivation.
In the present marijuana for medical purposes system, where some users have been allowed to continue to grow for personal use, there is great difficulty in monitoring and inspecting these properties. However,
this has been allowed given the Allard v Canada court decision, to not hinder access for medical purposes.
Washington has not permitted home cultivation, but Colorado has allowed the growth of a small number of plants for personal use (up to 6 plants, with a maximum 3 mature ones, in an enclosed, locked space).
2.3. Should a system of licensing or other fees be introduced?
Should limited home cultivation for non-medical purposes be an option, a system of registration and licensing would have to be set up to allow for tracking and inspections of home production. It would also allow penalties for non-registered producers as well as larger scale operations. This would be a system that would require intense government regulation, oversight and tremendous resources to be effective.
2.4. The MMPR set out rigorous requirements over the production, packaging, storage and distribution of marijuana. Are these types of requirements appropriate for the new system? Are there features that you would add or remove?
The requirements for production, packaging, storage and distribution of marijuana set out by the MMPR are appropriate for the new system. However, a rigorous review of the MMPR should be conducted to determine if there are weaknesses that need to be corrected before expanding to a non-medical market. Ongoing evaluation will be warranted as well. Distribution would have to expand beyond the mail service.
2.5. What role, if any, should existing licensed producers under the MMPR have in the new system (either in the interim or the long-term)?
The CMA’s policy position does not extend to whether the existing licensed producers should be suppliers to the recreational market. The experience in Colorado, however, showed that having the industry set up for medical purposes first allowed a smoother transition, in contrast with Washington, which did not have an industry.
SECTION 2 RECOMMENDATIONS:
The CMA supports a tightly regulated competitive model wherein production and distribution is heavily regulated and includes strict oversight.
The CMA recommends that the federal government prohibit home cultivation in the legalized system for non-medical use.
The CMA recommends that the federal government evaluate the requirements established by the MMPR system for production, packaging, storage and distribution to introduce improvements for implementation in the new legalized system for non-medical use.
3. DESIGNING AN APPROPRIATE DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM
3.1. Which distribution model makes the most sense and why?
There is the need to continue mail availability for patients accessing marijuana for medical purposes to ensure nationwide access, however, a distribution system based exclusively on mail service would probably not meet the objectives of a recreational system.
When a sample of our membership was asked about distribution models, first preference was given to existing non-health care structures, such as liquor stores. In some provinces, they would have the additional benefit of having a tightly regulated government monopoly by control board entities with a social responsibility mandate. Restrictions could be placed to limit the acquisition of both alcohol and marijuana. As stated earlier, marketing should be prohibited. Staff in these stores receives training and hours can be limited.
A close second preference was given to legal storefronts, similar to the independent dispensaries. Several municipalities have been in varied degrees of discussion on the regulation of the presently illegal dispensaries, and those regulations could be looked at as models in a legalized environment.
When asked about health care settings, such as pharmacies, respondents to the survey did not support this model. Almost 60% disagreed or strongly disagreed. A reason for this lack of support could be that placing marijuana in pharmacies could lend it credibility as a pharmaceutical medication, whereas placing it in liquor stores would send the message that it needs strict and formal controls.
As per previous discussion, the creation of private industries for production and distribution would have to be very tightly controlled to avoid commercialization. As we have learned from the alcohol and tobacco industries, private companies have an interest in recruiting customers and encouraging high levels of ongoing consumption. It is important that the regulatory framework be protected from these commercial and fiscal interests.
Regardless of the actual point of sale, storefront densities should be federally set and restrictive. There is good evidence from the regulation of alcohol that the less restrictive retail outlet density is, the more harms associated with alcohol use occur. Restrictions would also be placed on distances from schools, parks, playgrounds, colleges and universities, as well as on hours of sale. Regulations would lay out standards, including for the control of product sources, proof of minimum age required for purchase and restrictions on quantities sold.
3.2. To what extent is variation across provinces and territories in terms of distribution models acceptable?
In the CMA’s survey of our members, there was not a consensus among respondents as to whether provincial and territorial governments should decide on their own distribution mechanisms. Many comments stated that a federal standard is warranted due to the need for initial close oversight and the ability to make effective changes more quickly. The CMA position is that there is an important role for the federal government to play in ensuring consistency across the country and avoiding provincial/territorial variation.
3.3. Are there other models worthy of consideration?
The CMA recommends a phased in approach to the roll out of the system of distribution. Several pilot locations could be considered before going nationwide. Given the novelty and impact of this new legislation, particular caution is absolutely necessary from a regulatory and public health perspective.
SECTION 3 RECOMMENDATIONS:
The CMA recommends that the distribution model should occur outside health care structures, for example, in liquor stores, and that storefront densities should be federally set and restrictive.
The CMA recommends that the distribution model should be established at the federal level and be consistent across jurisdictions.
The CMA recommends a phased implementation approach prior to national availability.
4. ENFORCING PUBLIC SAFETY AND PROTECTION
4.1. How should governments approach designing laws that will reduce, eliminate and punish those who operate outside the boundaries of the new legal system for marijuana?
The severity of punishment for simple possession and personal use of marijuana should be eliminated with the removal of criminal sanctions. The CMA recommends that resources currently devoted to combating simple marijuana possession through the criminal law be diverted to public health and education strategies, particularly for youth. Having a criminal record limits employment prospects, and the impact on health status is profound, disproportionately among marginalized populations. Laws should include such things as the facilitation of access by individuals to services to address substance use, mental health and social stabilization. Laws should be drafted in a clear fashion to minimize ambiguity and provide as much guidance and direction to users, health care providers, enforcement authorities, producers, distributors and others.
4.2. What specific tools, training and guidelines will be most effective in supporting enforcement measures to protect public health and safety, particularly for impaired driving?
The use of marijuana is associated with an increased risk of impairment, and is incompatible with the operation of vehicles and work in safety sensitive positions due to risk of injury to oneself, coworkers or the general public.
Marijuana use is associated with an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes. Young people, particularly males, are more likely to drive after using marijuana. The Cross-Canada Report on Student Alcohol and Drug Use30 states that 14–21% of students in Grade 12 reported having driven within an hour of using marijuana, and more than 33% of Grade 12 students reported having been a passenger in a car where the driver had used the drug. Often, marijuana is associated with alcohol use, having an additive effect.
A clear and reliable process for identifying, testing and imposing consequences on individuals who use marijuana and drive absolutely needs to be in place nationally prior to legalization. This will be complicated by the fact that a roadside test for marijuana use is not in widespread use; blood and urine testing also pose challenges. Another issue is the fact that recent use does not necessarily equate to impairment and no scientific standard for impairment exists in the literature.
All individuals charged with impaired driving should have a specialist assessment to determine whether a substance use disorder is present. Individuals with substance use disorders should have immediate access to addiction treatment, mental health services and social stabilization.
There is also a need for the development of guidelines for employers for the assessment and management of risk.
4.3. Should consumption of marijuana be allowed in any publicly-accessible spaces outside the home? Under what conditions and circumstances?
No public smoking should be permitted, due to the risk of second hand smoke. Second hand marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxins, including carcinogens, found in directly inhaled marijuana smoke, in similar amounts, if not more. There is special concern for harmful health effects, especially among children. The CMA does not recommend the exposure of children to second hand smoke in public areas or in the home. The success in the reduction of tobacco use rates is significantly related to banning of smoking in public places.
In the CMA’s survey of a sample of its members, 51.7% disagreed with consumption in designated public places, such as the Dutch model of coffee shops.
SECTION 4 RECOMMENDATIONS:
The CMA recommends that the federal government reallocate resources currently dedicated to the enforcement of marijuana infractions, to public health, education and treatment programs.
The CMA recommends that the federal government ensure that a clear and reliable process for identifying, testing and imposing consequences on individuals who operate a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana be in place nationally prior to the legalization of marijuana.
The CMA recommends that the federal government prohibit smoking of marijuana for non-medical purposes in public places.
5. ACCESSING MARIJUANA FOR MEDICAL PURPOSES
5.1. What factors should the government consider in determining if appropriate access to medically authorized persons is provided once a system for legal access to marijuana is in place?
The CMA recognizes that some individuals suffering from terminal illness or chronic disease for which conventional therapies have not been effective may obtain relief with marijuana 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 (levels of THC, CBD), interactions with medications and adverse effects. Health Canada does not approve of marijuana as a medicine, as it has not gone through the approvals required by the regulatory process to be a pharmaceutical.
The present system poses a serious challenge for physicians in providing the best care to patients. The CMA has long called for more research to better understand potential therapeutic indications, as well as its risks. It is important that there be support for research of marijuana in order to develop products that can be held to pharmaceutical standards, as is the case with dronabinol (Marinol®), nabilone (Cesamet®) and THC/CBD (Sativex®).
The present marijuana for medical purposes regime operates as an exception to a criminal prohibition for production, possession and trafficking of marijuana. It was developed in reaction to court challenges regarding the right to legal access of individuals to marijuana for medical purposes.
With the new legal system for marijuana for non-medical use, the requirement to maintain a separate regulatory framework would not be necessary, given court-mandated access will be provided. As well, 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 dual standards (including different minimum ages, purchase quantities and taxation).
Provisions would have to exist within the new system to attend to legitimate medical needs of individuals who are under the minimum age for purchase of marijuana, or for those with a requirement for a more potent product than that which is legally available. Consideration might also be given to affordable access for those with low incomes.
As stated previously, the option of distribution through mail would have to continue, to facilitate access in remote areas. As well, patients or their families would be able to access marijuana through the distributors of marijuana for non-medical purposes, such as storefronts or liquor store-like entities, which would have employees trained to support patients and their needs.
The use of marijuana products for medical indications, through this system, should preferably be done under research protocols. This framework would contribute to the provision of more robust scientific data.
SECTION 5 RECOMMENDATION:
The CMA recommends that there be only one regime for marijuana, following legalization of non-medical marijuana, with provisions for the medical needs of those who would not be able to acquire marijuana in a legal manner, e.g., those below the minimum age or those with a requirement for a more potent product than legally available.
6. Summary of Recommendations
The CMA appreciates the opportunity to provide feedback on this important matter to physicians and the public. Legalization of marijuana for non-medical purposes is a fundamental shift in the approach to drugs. The CMA’s position is that it is essential that the government consult with experts, key stakeholders and the general public not only at this phase in preparation for legislation on this matter, but throughout the process of the development of regulations and implementation.
1) The CMA recommends that the federal government take a broad public health policy approach in legalizing marijuana for non-medical purposes, and that it be held accountable to these public health objectives.
2) The CMA recommends that the federal government incorporate the following measures to support improved implementation of the legalization of marijuana:
a) Ensure sufficient time to adequately prepare for the implementation of the legalized regime, including a phased-in approach and piloting legalization in smaller regions prior to national roll-out;
b) Assess international experience with legalization and incorporate lessons-learned from other jurisdictions into Canada’s approach;
c) Assess the domestic experience in the regulation of tobacco and alcohol against meeting the national objectives for each substance and incorporate lessons-learned from those experiences; and,
d) Develop capacity for national surveillance to ensure rigorous national-level monitoring and evaluation.
e) Support for a research agenda.
3) The CMA recommends that the federal government prohibit the marketing and advertising of marijuana and that packaging requirements include plain packaging, potency labelling and health warnings. The CMA further recommends that the federal government prohibit flavouring and shapes.
4) The CMA recommends that the federal government employ taxation and pricing levers to discourage consumption and that the revenues of this taxation be allocated to the provinces and territories and clearly allocated for health and social services.
5) The CMA recommends that the federal government establish potency restrictions to reduce the harms associated with higher potencies.
6) The CMA recommends that the federal government establish dosing restrictions on marijuana products, notably edibles.
7) The CMA recommends that the federal government establish maximum limits on quantities of marijuana that can be purchased.
8) The CMA recommends that the federal government employ effective public education tools, including skills-based training, to inform youth and families of the risks and harms of marijuana usage.
9) The CMA recommends that the federal government expand access and availability of substance use, mental health and social stabilization services simultaneously to the legalization of marijuana.
10) As part of this initiative, the CMA recommends that the federal government implement a plan to expand training programs in addiction medicine.
11) The CMA recommends that the federal government set the minimum age of purchase and consumption at 21 and that quantities and potency be restricted for those under the age of 25.
12) The CMA recommends that the federal government establish the minimum age at the national level to ensure consistency across all jurisdictions.
13) The CMA supports a tightly regulated competitive model wherein production and distribution is heavily regulated and includes strict oversight.
14) The CMA recommends that the federal government prohibit home cultivation in the legalized system for non-medical use.
15) The CMA recommends that the federal government evaluate the requirements established by the MMPR system for production, packaging, storage and distribution to introduce improvements for implementation in the new legalized system for non-medical use.
16) The CMA recommends that the distribution model should occur outside health care structures, for example, in liquor stores, and that storefront densities should be federally set and restrictive.
17) The CMA recommends that the distribution model should be established at the federal level and be consistent across jurisdictions.
18) The CMA recommends a phased implementation approach prior to national availability.
19) The CMA recommends that the federal government reallocate resources to the enforcement of marijuana infractions to public health, education and treatment programs.
20) The CMA recommends that the federal government ensure that a clear and reliable process for identifying, testing and imposing consequences on individuals who operate a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana be in place nationally prior to the legalization of marijuana.
21) The CMA recommends that the federal government prohibit smoking of marijuana for non-medical purposes in public places.
22) The CMA recommends that there be only one regime for marijuana, following legalization of non-medical marijuana, with provisions for the medical needs of those who would not be able to acquire marijuana in a legal manner, e.g., those below the minimum age or those with a requirement for a more potent product than legally available.
CMA Statement - Legalization of Marijuana
Ottawa, September 9, 2016 - The CMA's submission to the Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation is framed by the fundamental position that the legalization of marijuana is a societal prerogative; the CMA is not weighing in on this decision as it has already been made.
Keeping with our mandate as the national voice for the highest standards of health and health care, the CMA is squarely focused on minimizing the negative impact on individuals and public health.
The CMA has longstanding concerns about the health risks associated with consuming marijuana, particularly in smoked form.
Children and youth are particularly at risk for marijuana-related harms, given their brain is undergoing rapid, extensive development.
As such, the CMA's submission is framed by the overarching recommendation that the government must take a broad public health policy approach in developing the legalization framework. Focusing on the legalization issue alone is inadequate to deal with the complexity of the situation.
The CMA recommendations build on Canada's experience regulating alcohol and tobacco.
The legalization framework must include:
Marketing and packaging restrictions
Restrictions on the types of products and their potency
Prohibiting home cultivation
Expanding access to support services such as mental health and substance use services
Expanding access to training programs in addiction medicine, and
Making extensive educational resources on the risks of harm to the user and others available
We must recognize that the legalization of marijuana is a complex matter. Overall the CMA has submitted to the Task Force 22 evidence-based recommendations for a broad public health approach.
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