Vision for e-Prescribing: a joint statement by the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Pharmacists Association
By 2015, e-prescribing will be the means by which prescriptions are generated for Canadians.
e-Prescribing is the secure electronic creation and transmission of a prescription between an authorized prescriber and a patient's pharmacy of choice, using clinical Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and pharmacy management software.
Health Information Technology (HIT) is an enabler to support clinicians in the delivery of health care services to patients. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) each have identified e-prescribing as a key tool to deliver better value to patients. The integration of HIT into clinics and health care facilities where physicians and pharmacists provide care is a priority for both associations1.
As part of its Health Care Transformation initiative, the CMA highlighted the need to accelerate the introduction of e-prescribing in Canada to make it the main method of prescribing. In its policy on optimal prescribing the CMA noted that one of the key elements was the introduction of electronic prescribing. The CPhA, as part of its Blueprint for Pharmacy Implementation Plan, highlights information and communication technology, which includes e-prescribing, as one of five priority areas.
We applaud the ongoing efforts of Canada Health Infoway, provinces and territories to establish Drug Information Systems (DIS) and the supporting infrastructure to enable e-prescribing. We urge governments to maintain e-prescribing as a priority and take additional measures to accelerate their investments in this area.
It is our joint position that e-prescribing will improve patient care and safety. e-Prescribing, when integrated with DIS, supports enhanced clinical decision-making, prescribing and medication management, and integrates additional information available at the point of care into the clinical workflow.
The following principles should guide our collective efforts to build e-prescribing capability in all jurisdictions:
* Patient confidentiality and security must be maintained
* Patient choice must be protected
* Clinicians must have access to best practice information and drug cost and formulary data
* Work processes must be streamlined and e-prescribing systems must be able to integrate with clinical and practice management software and DIS
* Guidelines must be in place for data sharing among health professionals and for any other use or disclosure of data
* The authenticity and accuracy of the prescription must be verifiable
* The process must prevent prescription forgeries and diversion
* Pan-Canadian standards must be set for electronic signatures
Benefits of e-Prescribing
A number of these benefits will be realized when e-prescribing is integrated with jurisdictional Drug Information Systems (DIS).
o Improves patient safety and overall quality of care
o Increases convenience for dispensing of new and refill prescriptions
o Supports collaborative, team-based care
o Supports a safer and more efficient method of prescribing and authorizing refills by replacing outdated phone, fax and paper-based prescriptions
o Eliminates re-transcription and decreases risk of errors and liability, as a prescription is written only once at the point-of-care
o Supports electronic communications between providers and reduces phone calls and call-backs to/from pharmacies for clarification
o Provides Warning and Alert systems at the point of prescribing, supporting clinician response to potential contraindications, drug interactions and allergies
o Facilitates informed decision-making by making medication history, drug, therapeutic, formulary and cost information available at the point of prescribing
* Health Care System:
o Improves efficiency and safety of prescribing, dispensing and monitoring of medication therapy
o Supports access to a common, comprehensive medication profile, enhancing clinical decision-making and patient adherence
o Increases cost-effective medication use, through improved evidence-based prescribing, formulary adherence, awareness of drug costs and medication management
o Improves reporting and drug use evaluation
While evidence of the value of e-prescribing is established in the literature, its existence has not fostered broad implementation and adoption. In Canada, there are a number of common and inter-related challenges to e-prescribing's implementation and adoption. These include:
* Improving access to relevant and complete information to support decision-making
* Increasing the level of the adoption of technology at the point of care
* Focusing on systems-based planning to ensure continuum-wide value
* Integrating e-prescribing into work processes to gain support from physicians, pharmacists and other prescribers
* Increasing leadership commitment to communicate the need for change, remove barriers and ensure progress
* Updating legislation and regulation to support e-prescribing
Enabling e-Prescribing in Canada
CMA and CPhA believe that we can achieve the vision that is set out in this document and address the aforementioned challenges by working collectively on five fronts:
* Health care leadership in all jurisdictions and clinical organizations must commit to make e-prescribing a reality by 2015
* Provinces and territories, with Canada Health Infoway, must complete the building blocks to support e-prescribing by increasing Electronic Medical Record (EMR) adoption at the point of care, finishing the work on the Drug Information Systems (DIS) in all jurisdictions and building the connectivity among the points of care and the DIS systems
* Pharmacist and medical organizations in conjunction with provinces, territories and Canada Health Infoway must identify clear benefits for clinicians (enhancing the effectiveness of care delivery and in efficiencies in changing workflows) to adopt e-prescribing and focus their efforts on achieving these benefits in the next three years
* Provinces, territories and regulatory organizations must create a policy/regulatory environment that supports e-prescribing which facilitates the role of clinicians in providing health care to their patients
* Provinces and territories must harmonize the business rules and e-health standards to simplify implementation and conformance by software vendors and allow more investment in innovation.
1 Health Care Transformation in Canada, Canadian Medical Association, June 2010; Blueprint for Pharmacy Implementation Plan, Canadian Pharmacists Association, September 2009
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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Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Early childhood development. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-03.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Canadian Medical Association Submission on Motion 315 (Income Inequality). Ottawa: The Association; 2013. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/BriefPDF/BR2013-07.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). CMA’s recommendations for effective poverty reduction strategies. Ottawa: The Association; 2017. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-04.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Bill C-2 An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2015-11.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Statement to the House of Commons Committee on Health addressing the opioid crisis in Canada. Ottawa: The Association; 2016. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-15.pdf (accessed: 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Non-prescription availability of low-dose codeine products. Ottawa: The Association; 2017. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2018-04.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health Canada consultation on restriction of marketing and advertising of opioids. Ottawa: The Association; 2018. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2018-13.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Harms associated with opioids and other psychoactive prescription drugs. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Joint Canadian Medical Association & Canadian Psychiatric Association Policy - Access to mental health care. Ottawa: The Association; 2016. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Statement to the House of Commons Committee on Health addressing the opioid crisis in Canada. Ottawa: The Association; 2017. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-15.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
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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Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Harms associated with opioids and other psychoactive prescription drugs. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 2018).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Bill C-45: The Cannabis Act. Ottawa: The Association; 2017. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-09.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 28).
Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Ensuring equitable access to health care: Strategies for governments, health system planners, and the medical profession. Ottawa: The Association; 2014. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD14-04.pdf (accessed 2018 23 Nov).
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Radars System. 2018. Available: https://www.radars.org/. (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) 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 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).
Dear Premier Ford and Minister Elliott:
We write to you as organizations concerned about the health and welfare of some of the most vulnerable Ontarians, following reports that your government plans to undertake an unnecessary review of the evidence on supervised consumption sites (SCS),1 and the even more troubling announcement that you are imposing a moratorium on the approval of new overdose prevention sites (OPS).2
All the available evidence, including substantial peer-reviewed scientific literature, demonstrates conclusively that these health services save lives and promote the health of people who use drugs. This includes opening doors to treatment. Rather than conduct an unnecessary review and delay expansion of these services, the Ontario government should work with community organizations and health providers to rapidly scale up these services. Delays mean more preventable overdose deaths and new infections of HIV, hepatitis C and other illnesses that could be averted.
Multiple reviews of the evidence have already been done, and have established that SCS and OPS:
provide a needed health service, reducing overdose deaths and the sharing of drug-injection equipment (and the associated risk of transmission of blood-borne infections);
increase access to addiction treatment and other necessary health services; and
benefit public order by reducing public injecting.3
As you know, Canada is experiencing a large-scale opioid overdose crisis. In Ontario alone, overdose deaths related to opioids increased by 45 per cent in 2017, with more than three people dying every day during that year.4 The opioid overdose epidemic has been called “the worst drug safety crisis in Canadian history.”5 HIV, hepatitis C and other infections, as well as overdose deaths, are preventable if the right measures are taken. These include increasing voluntary access to treatment for problematic drug use (where Ontario must do better), and also simultaneously scaling up evidence-based harm reduction services such as SCS and OPS.
We urge you to heed the recommendations of experts in public health, front-line clinicians, harm reduction staff, and people with lived experience of drug use. Rather than impeding access to life-saving health services, we urge you to work with community organizations and other health services providers to ensure greater, equitable access to SCS and OPS for the people of Ontario.
Aboriginal Legal Services
ACAS—Asian Community AIDS Services
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
Addiction Services of Thames Valley
Addictions and Mental Health Ontario
Africans in Partnership Against AIDS
AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia
AIDS Committee of North Bay and Area
AIDS Committee of Toronto
AIDS Committee of Windsor
AIDS Committee of York Region
AIDS Vancouver Island
Alliance for Healthier Communities
Atlantic Interdisciplinary Research Network on Hepatitis C and HIV
Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention
Breakaway Addiction Services
Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network)
Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network
Canadian AIDS Society
Canadian Association of Community Health Centres
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
Canadian Medical Association
Canadian Mental Health Association—Thunder Bay Branch
Canadian Nurses Association
Canadian Positive People Network
Canadian Public Health Association
Canadian Research Initiative on Substance Misuse—Prairie Node
Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Canadian Treatment Action Council
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
Centre for Social Innovation
Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation
Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
Community Legal Assistance Sarnia
Community Legal Services of Ottawa / Services juridiques communautaires d’Ottawa
Community YWCA Muskoka
Courage Co-Lab Inc.
Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation
Elgin-Oxford Legal Clinic
Four Counties Addiction Services Team
Gerstein Crisis Centre
Guelph Community Health Centre
Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge Drug Strategy
Halifax Area Network of Drug Using People (HANDUP)
Harm Reduction Nurses Association
Health Providers Against Poverty
HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario
HIV/AIDS Regional Services
HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health
Houselink Community Homes
Housing Action Now!
Huron Perth Community Legal Clinic
Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC)
Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic
Inner City Health and Wellness Program
Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD)
Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services
Lake Country Community Legal Clinic
Lakeside HOPE House
Lanark County Interval House
Legal Clinic of Guelph and Wellington County
Maggie’s Toronto Sexwork Action Project
Mission Services of Hamilton Inc.
Mississauga Community Legal Services
MODIFY: Drug Insight From Youth
Moms Stop the Harm
mumsDU - moms united and mandated to saving the lives of Drug Users
Native Youth Sexual Health Network
Neighbourhood Legal Services London & Middlesex
Nipissing Community Legal Clinic
OHIP for All
Ontario AIDS Network (OAN)
Ontario Nurses’ Association
Ontario Positive Asians (OPA+)
Overdose Prevention Ottawa
Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre
Parkdale Community Legal Services
Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre
PHS Community Services Society
Planned Parenthood Toronto
Racial Health Equity Network
Reelout Arts Project
Regent Park Community Health Centre
Regional HIV/AIDS Connection
Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO)
Rideauwood Addiction and Family Services
Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
South Riverdale Community Health Centre
Stonegate Community Health Centre
Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Ryerson Chapter
Superior North Emergency Medical Service
Syme Woolner Neighbourhood and Family Centre
Tanner Steffler Foundation
The AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area
The Children’s Aid Society of the District of Thunder Bay
The Interfaith Coalition to Fight Homelessness
The Mental Health Consumer Survivor Project for Simcoe County
Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board
Thunder Bay Drug Strategy
Timmins-Temiskaming Community Legal Clinic
Toronto Overdose Prevention Society
Toronto People With AIDS Foundation
Waterloo Region Community Legal Services
WellFort Community Health Services
West Neighbourhood House
West Toronto Community Legal Services
Women & HIV/AIDS Initiative, Ontario
YWCA Niagara Region
1 F. Merali, “PCs ‘playing politics with people’s lives’ on injection sites, drug policy expert warns,” CBC News, August 4, 2018. Available at: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/supervised-injection-sites-waiting-1.4771143.
2 K. Bueckert, “Ontario puts new overdose prevention sites approvals on hold,” CBC News, August 11, 2018. Available at: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/ontario-overdose-prevention-sites-approval-hold-1.4782132.
3 E.g., M. Kennedy, M. Karamouzian & T. Kerr. “Public Health and Public Order Outcomes Associated with Supervised Drug Consumption Facilities: A Systematic Review,” Current HIV/AIDS Reports, 2017; 14(5): 161-183, doi: 10.1007/s11904-017-0363-y. Available at: www.salledeconsommation.fr/_media/public-health-and-public-order-outcomes-associated-with-supervised-drug-consumption-facilities-a-systematic-review.pdf.
4 Public Health Ontario, “Opioid-related morbidity and mortality in Ontario,” May 23, 2018. Available at: www.publichealthontario.ca/en/dataandanalytics/pages/opioid.aspx#/trends.
5 Municipal Drug Strategy Coordinators’ Network of Ontario, “Opioid Epidemic: Call for Urgent Action That Can Save Lives Now,” December 9, 2015.
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).