The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) provides this brief for consideration as part of House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security's study of Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Respect for Communities Act).1
Prior to a discussion on CMA's position regarding the substance of Bill C-2, the CMA firstly recommends that legislation pertaining to harm reduction services requires study by parliamentary committees responsible for health or social matters in addition to public safety.
Bill C-2 (formerly Bill C-65) is subsequent to the 2011 unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada2 that recognized the significant evidence on the benefits of Insite, Vancouver's supervised injection site. The Supreme Court ordered that the federal government grant the exemption for medical and scientific purposes to Insite.
The ruling left decisions regarding future applications for exemptions to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) for Insite and other potential supervised injection sites up to the discretion of the Minister of Health, with the provision that the Minister seek to strike the appropriate balance between the public health and public safety goals, and suggests the decision be based on five elements: "evidence, if any, on the impact of such a facility on crime rates, the local conditions indicating a need for such a supervised injection site, the regulatory structure in place to support the facility, the resources available to support its maintenance and expressions of community support or opposition." 3
In response, the Minister of Health proposed Bill C-2, which amends the CDSA to include section 56.1, and provides a federal regulatory framework for supervised consumption sites.*
CMA is deeply concerned with the proposed legislation, as it has the potential to create unnecessary obstacles and burdens that would ultimately deter the creation of new supervised consumption sites, even in municipalities where the need and cost-effectiveness has been well researched and the health and safety benefits clearly established. Moreover, it does not strike the appropriate balance between public health and public safety, as is the spirit and intent of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling on Insite. This will make the renewal of exemptions for Insite, the very facility which the Supreme Court ruled "saves lives", very difficult.
Public health approach to addiction
Addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments. The CMA has long called for a comprehensive national drug strategy that addresses addiction, and includes prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement components.
Public health objectives in addressing addictions will vary depending upon the circumstances: preventing drug use in those who have not initiated use (e.g. pre-teens); avoiding use in circumstances associated with a risk of adverse outcomes (e.g. drug use and driving motor vehicle); assisting those who wish to stop using drugs (e.g. treatment, rehabilitation); and assisting those who continue to use drugs to do so in such a manner as to reduce the risk of adverse effects (e.g. needle distribution program).
Despite drug use being primarily a health and social issue, the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy is heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach, as evidenced by a recent evaluation.4 This approach does not address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use. Other models are more effective in achieving the desired objectives and more investments need to be made in prevention, harm reduction and treatment, keeping individuals out of the criminal justice system.5
Drug use is a complex issue, and collaboration among health and public safety professionals, and society at large, is essential.
Harm reduction is part of health practice
Harm reduction is not restricted to services for people who use drugs; it is an approach that is adopted routinely in every health and social program. For example, seat belts, air bags and helmets are encouraged and even mandated to reduce some of the possible harmful consequences of driving or cycling - regardless of who is at fault. Many medications do not cure diseases, and are essential to prevent complications. An example is the use of insulin by people with diabetes.6 There are many programs created to reduce the harms created by alcohol, a legal substance that contributes to a significant burden of disease, disability and deaths. Examples include low risk drinking guidelines, designated driver or alternate driver programs for drinkers, graduated licenses and changes in the hours of liquor stores to reduce the use of non-beverage alcohol.7 While the risk is still present, this approach reduces harms.
Harm reduction related to psychoactive substances, "refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs without necessarily reducing drug consumption. Harm reduction benefits people who use drugs, their families and the community".8 They are part of a comprehensive approach which also includes abstinence-based programs.
The CMA fully supports harm reduction strategies as they aim to reduce mortality and morbidity even in the face of continued exposure to a potentially harmful substance. Addiction is an illness, and harm reduction is a clinically mandated and ethical method of care and treatment. Physicians must treat patients as a matter of good medical practice and ethical obligation, whether the patient is believed to contribute to his or her injury or not. Section 31 of CMA's Code of Ethics provides that all physicians must "recognize the responsibility of physicians to promote fair access to health care resources".9
Harm reduction information, services and interventions are respectful and non-judgmental, and have the purpose of promoting health and safety. These strategies were developed in response to critical situations and high costs to the health, social and criminal justice systems. Harm reduction approaches are evidence-based, cost effective and have a high impact on individual and community health. Such programs for injection drug users are now well established within every province and territory in Canada, in the form of needle and syringe distribution programs, methadone maintenance and the provision of sterilized equipment.10
Supervised Consumption Sites are evidence-based
Supervised consumption sites, within a comprehensive drug strategy, are another example of a harm reduction program. They were developed to reduce the harms of Injection drug use, which are an increased incidence and prevalence of infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, and skin- and blood-borne infections; frequent drug overdoses resulting in significant morbidity and mortality; and increased hospital and emergency service utilization. Many of these health problems are not due to the drugs themselves, but to the injection method and equipment.
Supervised consumption sites are "specialized facilities that provide injection drug users with a clean, safe, unhurried environment. Sterile injection equipment is provided and health care and social service professionals are available to deal with health issues, provide counselling, and facilitate access to detoxification and treatment programs. Supervision is provided by health professionals trained in low-risk injection techniques and overdose intervention."11 The drugs are acquired elsewhere, and they are located in areas of concentrated and highly visible drug scenes. Such services have existed for many years in many countries, and there are over 90 sites operating in countries such as Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland.12
Clients of these sites have complex histories of trauma, mental illness and drug use, and live at the margins of society, unreached by traditional health and social services. Supervised consumption sites are developed as low threshold services for hard-to-reach populations which are experiencing unacceptable levels of deaths and diseases. Existing outreach and treatment programs are insufficient to meet the needs of this population, and these sites are a point of entry into health and social services.
Insite, the first supervised injection site in North America, operates in Vancouver's downtown east side as part of the 'four pillars' drug strategy: prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement.13 14 In 2012, Insite had an average of 1028 visits per day. There were 497 overdose incidents with no fatalities and 3418 clinical treatment interventions. Insite staff made 4564 referrals for further health care, housing and social supports, and the vast majority was for detox and addiction treatment.15
Insite has been one of the most researched public health interventions to date.16 Research was conducted by the BC Centre for Excellence on HIV/AIDS, funded partially by Health Canada, and there are over 30 publications in leading peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals.17 18The evidence shows that there has been:
* A reduction in the overall rate of needle sharing in the area;19
* A reduction in deaths due to overdose in the area, with no overdose deaths in the facility;20 21
* Increased access to addiction counseling and increased enrolment in detox programs;22 23
* Opportunities for HIV prevention through education, and increased links between patients and HIV treatment and services;24
* Improvements in measures of public order including reduced public drug injections and publicly discarded syringes;25 and
* No increase in levels of drug dealing or other drug related crime in the area in which the facility is located. 26
* Cost savings to health and social systems, reducing risks of infectious diseases, intervening early when there are issues, and reducing the need for emergency care.27 28
Reports from other countries show similar results.29 30 However, "research evidence, even if it meets rigorous academic standards, might be insufficient to sway opinions among those who hold a firm view of addiction as a moral failure."31 Assertions that supervised consumption sites will not reduce disease transmission, exacerbate crime, encourage drug use, have destructive effects on local businesses and residents are not based on evidence.
Physicians believe that medical decisions must be based on evidence, not ideology or public opinion, and the evidence shows that supervised injection reduces the spread of infectious diseases, decreases the incidence of overdose and death and increases access to much needed services, without increasing problems with public safety.
Significantly, the Court accepted the evidence that "Insite has saved lives and improved health without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime in the surrounding area."32 It also stated that Insite is supported by the Vancouver police, the city and provincial governments. Supervised consumption rooms aim to address problems of specific, high-risk populations of people who use drugs, particularly those who consume in public and other high risk situations. They seek to meet the needs of those who use drugs, but also of the communities that are struggling with a crisis situation.
The CMA has the following concerns with Bill C-2:
1. Bill C-2 does not strike a balance between the public health and public safety goals of the CDSA. As written, Bill C-2 disregards the strong evidence of important positive impacts on public health and public safety and giving undue emphasis on public opinion, which might not be fully informed or experienced. Although public opinion might initially be against the introduction of such facilities, public acceptance of supervised consumption sites is considerably high in most of the locations where they have been established, in both Vancouver sites (Insite and the Dr Peter Centre) and in European countries. "Health problems have been reduced, and law and order have been improved. Communities, neighbourhoods and local authorities are usually involved in the good functioning of the facilities through cooperation and communication."33 The Supreme Court states that there has been "no discernible negative impact on the public safety and health objectives of Canada during its [Insite's] eight years of operation."
2. Bill C-2 contradicts the spirit and intent of the unanimous decision of the 2011 Supreme Court of Canada regarding Insite which states that "the potential denial of health services and the correlative increase in the risk of death and disease to injection drug users outweigh any benefit that might be derived from maintaining an absolute prohibition on possession of illegal drugs".34 Bill C-2 does not acknowledge the extensive evidence that exists regarding supervised consumption sites both internationally and in Canada, as discussed previously. Passing Bill C-2 in its current form could potentially prevent the renewal of the exemption to Section 56 of the CDSA for Insite. A likely consequence will be further costly litigation.
3. Bill C-2 would impose multiple and significant barriers that providers of health services to obtain an exemption to section 56 of the CDSA. From five criteria in the Supreme Court decision concerning Insite, Bill C-2 lists 27 requirements (Section 56(1)(3)), which include demographic and scientific data, letters of opinions from representatives of local police and local and provincial governments, information about proposed staff, descriptions of planned procedures and reports from community consultations. Such evidence could require extensive resources and funding by local public health units and community agencies. Some of the data required may only be available in the context of a research project. The data is not only influenced by the existence or not of a supervised consumption site, but by many other factors, such as poverty, enforcement resources and others. Community opinion of supervised consumption sites can also change to be significantly positive after experiencing months of its operation. Finally, Bill C-2 does not address how the Minister is to weigh the information submitted, to guarantee impartiality, or even if he or she must consider an application. Even after meeting all those requirements, the Minister has the sole discretion to decide whether a site can open, and the preamble states that exemptions will only be granted in "exceptional circumstances".
4. Bill C-2 did not involve consultation with provincial and territorial ministries of health, community agencies and professional associations, such as the CMA. Public health authorities and particularly health professionals, who work with people with addictions on a daily basis, recognize the dire need for complementary approaches to substance use that address different needs. The exemption to section 56 is for medical purposes, and public health agencies have the competency to determine when there is a need.
It is the CMA's ultimate position that Bill C-2, the Respect for Communities Act must be withdrawn, and that it be replaced with legislation that recognizes the unequivocal evidence of benefits of supervised consumption sites, that was accepted by the Supreme Court. Legislation would enhance access to health services, which include prevention, harm reduction and treatment services in communities where the evidence has shown they would benefit from such health services.
* "Supervised consumption site" is the term used in Bill C-2, section 56.1, and defined as "a location specified in the terms and conditions of an exemption, granted by the Minister under subsection (2) for a medical purpose, that allows any person or class of persons described in the exemption to engage in certain activities in relation to an illicit substance within a supervised and controlled environment." The Supreme Court of Canada and other documents use terms such as "supervised injection site" "supervised injection services", "drug consumption rooms" or "safer injection site". In the literature, supervised consumption sites could also include supervised inhalation services.
1 Bill C-2: An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. 2nd Session, 41st Parliament. Retrieved from: http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=6256959&File=4
2 Supreme Court of Canada (2011) Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Comm. Serv. Soc. Retrieved from: http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/7960/index.do
3 Supreme Court of Canada (2011) Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Comm. Serv. Soc. supra. p.192-3
4 Department of Justice (2013) National Anti-Drug Strategy Evaluation. Retrieved from: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/cp-pm/eval/rep-rap/12/nas-sna/p1.html#sec23
5 Day, Brian (2008) "Ottawa's bad prescription on addiction." Toronto Star, Sunday June 8, 2008. Retrieved from: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/438967
6 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (2008) Harm reduction: what's in a name? Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa0115302008e.pdf
7 National Alcohol Strategy Working Group (2007) Reducing Alcohol-Related Harm in Canada: toward a culture of moderation. Recommendations for a National Alcohol Strategy. Retrieved from: http://ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa-023876-2007.pdf
8 International Harm Reduction Association (2010) Harm Reduction: A position statement from the International Harm Reduction Association. IHRA Briefing. Retrieved from: http://www.ihra.net/files/2010/08/10/Briefing_What_is_HR_English.pdf
9 Canadian Medical Association (2010) Factum of the Intervener. Supreme Court of Canada (Appeal from the British Columbia Court of Appeal) between the Attorney General of Canada and Minister of Health for Canada and PHS Community Services Society, Dean Edward Wilson and Shelly Tomic, Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users. Retrieved from: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/CMA-Factum_filed14April2011.pdf
10 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (2008) Harm reduction: what's in a name? Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa0115302008e.pdf
11 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (2008) Harm reduction: what's in a name? Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa0115302008e.pdf
12 Schatz, E. & Nougier, M. (2012) Drug consumption rooms: evidence and practice. International Drug Policy Consortium Briefing Paper. Retrieved from: http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17898/1/IDPC-Briefing-Paper_Drug-consumption-rooms.pdf
13 City of Vancouver Four Pillars Drug Strategy (2008) Limiting the harms of drug use. Retrieved from: http://vancouver.ca/fourpillars/harmReduction/limitHarmDrugUse.htm
14 Vancouver Coastal Health. Supervised Injection Site (N.D.) Services. Accessed September 19, 2014 at: http://supervisedinjection.vch.ca/services/services
15 Vancouver Coastal Health. Supervised Injection Site (N.D.). Accessed September 19, 2014 at: http://supervisedinjection.vch.ca/research/supporting_research/user_statistics
16 Urban Health Research Initiative (2010). Insight into Insite. Retrieved from: http://www.cfenet.ubc.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/insight_into_insite.pdf
17 Health Canada. Vancouver's Insite service and other supervised injection sites: what has been learned from Research? Final Report of the Expert Advisory Committee. Ottawa: Health Canada, 2008. Prepared for the Hon. Tony Clement, Minister of Health, Government of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/pubs/_sites-lieux/insite/index-eng.php
18 Wood, E. et al. (2006) Summary of findings from the evaluation of a pilot medically supervised safer injecting facility. Canadian Medical Association J, 175(11): 1399-1404.
19 Kerr, T. et al. (2005) Safer injection facility use and syringe sharing in injection drug users. The Lancet 366: 316-18.
20 Milloy M.J., Kerr, T., Tyndall, M., Montaner, J., & Wood E. (2008) Estimated drug overdose deaths averted by North America's first medically-supervised safer injection facility. PLoS ONE 3(10):e3351.
21 Marshall B. D. L., Milloy, M.-J., Wood, E., Montaner, J. S. G., & Kerr, T. (2011). Reduction in overdose mortality after the opening of North America's first medically supervised safer injecting facility: A retrospective population-based study. Lancet. Published online April 18, 2011. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62353-7.
22 Wood, E. et al. (2007) Rate of detoxification service use and its impact among a cohort of supervised injecting facility users. Addiction 102: 916-919.
23 Tyndall, M.W. et al. (2005) Attendance, drug use patterns, and referrals made from North America's first supervised injection facility. Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
24 Tyndall, M.W. et al. (2006) HIV seroprevalence among participants at a medically supervised injection facility in Vancouver Canada: Implications for prevention, care and treatment. Harm Reduction J 3:36.
25 Wood, E. et al. (2004) "Changes in public order after the opening of a medically supervised safer injecting facility for illicit injection drug users." Canadian Medical Association J 171(7): 731-34.
26 Health Canada. Vancouver's Insite service and other supervised injection sites: what has been learned from Research? Final Report of the Expert Advisory Committee. Ottawa: Health Canada, 2008. Prepared for the Hon. Tony Clement, Minister of Health, Government of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/pubs/_sites-lieux/insite/index-eng.php
27 Andresen, M.A. & Boyd, N. (2010) A cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis of Vancouver's supervised injection facility. Int.J.DrugPolicy 21(1): 70-76.
28 Pinkerton, S.D. (2010) Is Vancouver Canada's supervised injection facility cost-saving? Addiction 105(8): 1429-36.
29 Schatz, E. & Nougier, M. (2012) Drug consumption rooms: evidence and practice. International Drug Policy Consortium Briefing Paper.
30 Hedrich, D. (2004) European report on drug consumption rooms. Report prepared for the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction.
31 Watson, T.M. et al. (2012) Police Perceptions of Supervised Consumption Sites (SCSs): A Qualitative Study. Substance Use & Misuse, 47:364-374.
32 Supreme Court of Canada (2011) Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Comm. Serv. Soc. supra. p. 136
33 Schatz, E. & Nougier, M. (2012) Drug consumption rooms: evidence and practice. International Drug Policy Consortium Briefing Paper. (p.20)
34 Supreme Court of Canada (2011) Canada (A.G.) v. PHS Comm. Serv. Soc. supra (p.188).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide its response to the Tamper resistance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act consultation, published in the Canada Gazette on June 28, 2014. The CMA encourages Health Canada to accelerate the development of regulations to require products containing specified controlled substances, or classes thereof, to have tamper-resistant properties in order to be sold in Canada.
The CMA reiterates its overarching recommendation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health during its 2014 study on addressing prescription drug abuse1; that the federal government work with provincial/territorial governments and other stakeholders to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy to address the misuse and abuse of prescription medication in Canada. The CMA recommends that such a strategy must include prevention, treatment, surveillance and research, as well as consumer protection. One form of consumer protection is the requirement of modifications to the drugs themselves with the intent of minimizing their abuse potential.
The CMA also reiterates its recommendation made to Health Canada during the consultation on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and its regulations in 20142, that Health Canada establish higher levels of regulatory scrutiny for controlled prescription medication, with more stringent pre-approval requirements. In that brief, the CMA recommends that prescription opioid medication or other potentially addictive medications have tamper- resistant formulations3 to reduce the potential for misuse or abuse.
A similar position is taken by the National Advisory Council on Substance Misuse's strategy, First Do No Harm: Responding to Canada's Prescription Drug Crisis4, where one of the 58 recommendations made is that governments and other stakeholders "review existing evidence and/or conduct objective and independent research on the effectiveness of tamper-resistant and abuse-deterrent technology and packaging and make recommendations as needed to reduce the harms associated with prescription drugs and paediatric exposure."
Tamper-resistant technology aims to reduce abuse readiness and reduce dependence potential of psychoactive medications, by reducing or impeding the achievement of a rapid euphoric effect ("high") from tampering of the formulation. This can be accomplished by altering physical or chemical properties or absorption rate, prolonging half-life, developing
Canadian Medical Association (2013) The need for a national strategy to address abuse and misuse of prescription drugs in Canada. CMA
Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. CMA. Retrieved from: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets- library/document/en/advocacy/Prescription-Drug- Abuse_en.pdf#search=The%20need%20for%20a%20national%20strategy%20to%20address%20abuse%20and%20misuse%20of%20prescription
Canadian Medical Association (2014) Review of Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Submission to Health Canada in response to the
consultation on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its regulations. CMA. Retrieved from: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets- library/document/en/advocacy/CMA_SubmissiontoHealthCanada- CDSA_Modernization.pdf#search=Submission%20to%20Health%20Canada%20in%20response%20to%20the%20consultation%20on%20the%20 Controlled%20Drugs%20and%20Substances%20Act%20and%20its%20regulations%2E
3 There are different terms to characterize efforts to prevent the manipulation of psychoactive medications for abuse purposes: abuse or tamper
resistant formulations, abuse or tamper deterrent formulations and others. In the literature, and for the purpose of this submission, terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
National Advisory Committee on Prescription Drug Misuse (2013) First do no harm: Responding to Canada's prescription drug crisis. Ottawa:
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (p30). Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/resource%20library/canada-strategy-prescription-drug-misuse- report-en.pdf
prodrugs (inactive forms that are converted to active forms in the human body), or adding ingredients that are unattractive to users when the drug is altered.
The science around tamper resistance is relatively recent, and analytical, clinical and other methods for developing and evaluating such technologies is increasing. The regulations will have to account for this new and evolving area of expertise, in maintaining scientific rigour in the assessment and evaluation of new formulations both in the pre-approval stage as well as in the post-approval monitoring, while still ensuring efficacy for their target indication.5
Pre-marketing evaluations assess the potentially tamper-resistant properties of a product under controlled circumstances. They should include laboratory-based, pharmacokinetic and clinical abuse potential studies. Post-approval monitoring seeks to determine whether the marketing of the potentially tamper-resistant formulation results in changes in patterns of use, addiction, overdoses and deaths. It is important to understand whether there have been successful attempts to defeat or compromise such formulations. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has not approved explicit label claims of abuse deterrence and will wait until there is sufficient post-marketing data.6 7 Generic manufacturers would have to be held to the same standards.
The availability of good quality, systematic surveillance data from Canadian populations is essential to demonstrate epidemiological trends, and would inform these regulations. Regulations must take into consideration the drugs that are most frequently diverted for abuse, the most frequent forms of abuse of each drug, those causing most overdoses and deaths and the populations that are most affected.
As stated previously, it is essential that such regulations be part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce abuse of prescription medications. Studies have shown that if no other measures are taken, people who are dealing with addiction and dependence will simply shift to another prescription drug that is not tamper-resistant, or even to illegal drugs. Deterrence is specific to the drug in question. Such has been the case with the introduction of oxycodone with the tamper-resistant formulation, OxyNEO(r), with a significant reduction of oxycodone as a drug of choice. However, at the same time, there was a rise in the use of heroin and other opioids which did not have abuse deterrent technology8, 9.
Tamper-resistant technologies have not been proven to be 100% effective in preventing abuse. They are not successful in preventing the most common form of abuse, which is the ingestion of a large number of intact pills, although there have been some attempts at the addition of aversive agents. There is, however, the potential for a significant reduction in the
Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (2013) Guidance for Industry: abuse-deterrent opioids - evaluation and labeling. Draft Guidance.
Food and Drug Administration. US Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/Guidances/UCM334743.pdf 6
Romach, MK, Schoedel, KA, & Sellers, EM (2013) Update on tamper-resistant drug formulations. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 130: 13-23.
Shaeffer, T (2012) Abuse-deterrent formulations, an evolving technology against the abuse and misuse of opioid analgesics. J.Med.Toxicol.
Cicero, TJ, Ellis, MS, Surratt, HL (2012 Jul 12). Effect of abuse-deterrent formulation of OxyContin. N Engl J Med. 367(2): 187-9.
The Conference Board of Canada (2014) Innovations and policy solutions for addressing prescription drug abuse: summary report. Retrieved
progression from oral to other forms of use, such as chewing, snorting, smoking and injecting. There is an additional challenge, which is the fact that information about procedures and recipes for drug tampering is available among people who use drugs, and sometimes is found on the Internet.
There is the possibility of negative unintended consequences in mandating tamper-resistant properties as a condition of sale for selected prescription drugs. There have been anecdotal reports that such forms might not be as effective in addressing the therapeutic needs of some patients. As well, some patients have had difficulties in swallowing tamper-resistant formulations of some drugs. It is essential that the regulations ensure that these medications have adequate clinical testing to ensure bioequivalence to the original formulations, without added adverse effects.
The regulations must also take into account the affordability of the new formulations - that the development costs of the tamper-resistant technology not result in an excessive increase in the cost to patients. This must be closely monitored so that there are adequate options for pain management.
Prescription drug abuse is a complex and very concerning health problem, and it will require more than a single policy solution. Safer drug formulations have the potential to be an important element of a comprehensive strategy, as medications are necessary tools for the treatment of pain. However, other components such as better surveillance and monitoring, clinical guidelines and tools, and enhanced access to withdrawal and addiction treatment services, as well as mental health and specialized pain services are also essential.
The CMA is pleased to provide the recommendations listed below on the development and establishment of new regulations and encourages Health Canada to accelerate the advancement of the draft regulations.
The CMA recommends that:
1. Health Canada accelerate the establishment requirements for tamper-resistant formulations with the intent of minimizing their abuse potential, as part of a comprehensive national strategy to address the misuse and abuse of prescription medication in Canada, in collaboration with provincial/territorial governments and other stakeholders.
2. both brand name and generic manufacturers be held to the same standards regarding tamper-resistant formulations.
3. the regulations account for the new and evolving area of expertise in tamper-resistance formulations, in maintaining scientific rigour in the assessment and evaluation of new formulations in the pre-approval and post-marketing stages.
4. the regulations ensure that tamper-resistant formulations maintain the same levels of efficacy for their target therapeutic indication as the original formulations, without added adverse effects.
5. the regulations include requirements for post-approval monitoring to determine whether the marketing of the potentially tamper-resistant formulation results in changes in patterns of use, addiction, overdoses and deaths.
6. Health Canada strengthen surveillance systems to collect necessary data from Canadian populations to inform these regulations regarding epidemiological trends, including the drugs that are most frequently diverted for abuse, the most frequent forms of abuse of each drug, those causing most overdoses and deaths and the populations that are affected.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this brief in response to Health Canada's consultation on the proposed regulatory amendments to the Narcotic Control Regulations and the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, published in the Canada Gazette Part I, on June 14, 2014.
The CMA has already made its position on the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations known to Health Canada (see Appendix A). While recognizing the needs of those suffering from terminal illness or chronic disease, and for whom marijuana may provide relief, the CMA has raised significant concerns and objections to the regulatory framework since it was first proposed in 2001. Put simply, the CMA has significant and grave concerns with the regulatory framework governing medical marijuana. Of particular concern to physicians is the scarcity of evidence- based information about the use of marijuana as medical therapy, including on dosage, risks and benefits, and contraindications.
While several amendments to the regulatory framework have been promulgated since its initial establishment, the CMA's primary concerns have yet to be addressed. In brief, as the CMA's position on the regulatory framework is detailed in Appendix A, the CMA opposes the approach placing physicians in the role of gatekeepers for a product whose medical benefits have not been sufficiently researched. The CMA continues to recommend that marijuana for medical purposes be held to the same standards as prescription pharmaceutics, including the clinical trial process required for therapeutic products under the Food and Drugs Act and be subject to the same safety and efficacy standards as pharmaceuticals if used for medical purposes.
There remain fundamental concerns about quality, safety and efficacy of marijuana used for medical purposes, and the Canadian Medical Protective Association has advised physicians who are uncomfortable with the regulations to refrain from authorizing marijuana to their patients due to potential liability. The CMA advocates for education and licensing programs, clinical guidance and practice supports for health care practitioners who decide to authorize the use of marijuana for patients.
The CMA recommends that Health Canada further revise the proposed amendments to the
Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations to:
1) Enable consistent and best practice oversight
In the CMA's submission to Health Canada as part of its review of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, as well as in parliamentary briefs on the prescription pharmaceutical regulatory
framework, the CMA has recommended high regulatory standards for prescription medication; and even more stringent requirements for controlled substances, both during the approval and the post-approval phases. These recommendations are driven by the potential for harm to patients and the possibility for misuse or abuse of medications, particularly opioids and other such substances.
For these reasons, the CMA advocates for an inter-operable, pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription monitoring and surveillance for controlled substances. Robust monitoring and surveillance programs facilitate professional regulatory bodies' oversight and intervention, by enabling the identification of prescribing outliers which include fraudulent attempts to access controlled medications. Prescription monitoring programs also gather information to improve the understanding of prescription drug abuse and to support the development and adoption of best practices. In order to be streamlined and optimized, such a system should be compatible with existing electronic medical and pharmacy record systems and with provincial pharmaceutical databases, and accessible as a point-of-care tool for health care practitioners.
Currently, marijuana for medical purposes is exempt from the regulatory requirements of the Food and Drugs Regulations that apply to prescription pharmaceuticals in Canada. Under the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations there is no system in place to monitor the authorization of marijuana for medical purposes.
It is in this context that CMA supports the underlying principle of the proposed amendment to the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations which requires licensed producers to provide information to the provincial professional licensing authorities for health practitioners regarding authorizations for marijuana for medical purposes in response to a request by the licensing authority.
However, aligned with the CMA's support of a pan-Canadian prescription monitoring system, the CMA recommends that the provision of relevant information to licensing authorities should be part of required regular reporting procedures for the licensed producers, consistent with the prescription monitoring program requirements of the respective provincial and territorial jurisdictions.
Finally, the CMA recommends that Health Canada support the integration marijuana for medical purposes within provincial/territorial prescription monitoring programs, including facilitating the availability of a point-of-care access tool for health care practitioners.
2) Safeguard protection of privacy
As articulated in the CMA's Code of Ethics, physicians consider protecting the privacy of patient information to be paramount, and as such, the CMA has developed policy guidance concerning patient as well as physician information. The CMA's Principles for the Protection of Patients' Personal Health Information (see Appendix B) emphasizes that privacy, confidentiality and trust are cornerstones of the patient-physician relationship. Recognizing that health information is highly sensitive, this policy statement articulates foundational privacy principles that must be adhered to with respect to patient information.
In addition to the provision of patient information, authorizations include physician information. The CMA's Principles Concerning Physician Information (see Appendix C) specify 11 conditions that must be met including with respect to the collection, use, access, storage and disclosure of physician information.
The CMA recommends that the proposed amendments to the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations be reviewed and revised as necessary to ensure it meets the standards of the CMA's Principles for the Protection of Patients' Personal Health Information and the CMA's Principles Concerning Physician Information.
The CMA is concerned with the fact that licensed producers, not Health Canada, are the custodians of patient and licensed health practitioner information, in that they collect, use, have access to or disclose this information. For example, security safeguards, written privacy policies and designated accountable privacy officers, must be in place to protect personal health information and licensed practitioner identification in order to ensure that only authorized collection, use and disclosure or access occurs. The text of the proposed amendment addresses "secure transmission" of data, but it must also address secure storage. Safeguards must ensure that there is the same rigour as required for pharmacies as custodians of sensitive private information. The proposed period of record retention of two years should be reviewed in consultation with the professional licensing bodies, to ensure it is sufficient or if it should be extended.
In recognition of the importance of health information privacy, including privacy of patient and physician information, the CMA strongly reiterates its recommendation that Health Canada undertake a privacy impact assessment of the proposed amendment. It is of the utmost importance that the proposed amendments to the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations must conform to privacy laws, and protect patient confidentiality while enabling oversight by
licensing authorities. The CMA recommends Health Canada to engage stakeholders as part of its consultation process as part of this privacy assessment.
3) Clarify and enforce consumer advertising requirements
Regarding direct-to-consumer advertising, while marijuana for medical purposes is exempt from the Food and Drug Regulations, it is subject to requirements specified in the Narcotic Control Regulations and the Food and Drug Act. The CMA is concerned that licensed producers are circumventing existing direct-to-consumer advertising legislative and regulatory standards.
Marijuana for medical purposes is subject to the following sections of the Food and Drugs Act:
3. (1) No person shall advertise any food, drug, cosmetic or device to the general public as a treatment, preventative or cure for any of the diseases, disorders or abnormal physical states referred to in Schedule A.
9. (1) No person shall label, package, treat, process, sell or advertise any drug in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character, value, quantity, composition, merit or safety.
(2) A drug that is not labelled or packaged as required by, or is labelled or packaged contrary to, the regulations shall be deemed to be labelled or packaged contrary to subsection (1).
Marijuana for medical purposes is subject to the following section of the Narcotic Control Regulations:
70. No person shall
(a) publish or cause to be published or furnish any advertisement respecting a narcotic unless the symbol "N" is clearly and conspicuously displayed in the upper left-hand quarter thereof or, if the advertisement consists of more than one page, on the first page thereof;
(b) publish or cause to be published or furnish any advertisement to the general public respecting a narcotic; or
(c) advertise in a pharmacy a preparation referred to in section 36.
While the legislative and regulatory requirements appear consistent with the requirements governing the advertising of prescription and non-prescription medication, it appears that licensed producers are in gross contravention of these standards. The CMA recommends additional effort and action on the part of Health Canada to ensure compliance and enforcement of direct-to-consumer advertising provisions of the Food and Drugs Act and Narcotic Control Regulations. To this end, the CMA recommends that Health Canada issue guidance documentation outlining compliance with these standards and ensure enforcement of these regulations.
The CMA welcomes the consultation and review of the amendments to the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations with the view of promoting quality care to improve patient safety and public health. The CMA encourages further consultation and welcomes the opportunity to discuss these issues in greater detail.
Overview of recommendations
1. The CMA recommends that the provision of relevant information to licensing authorities should be part of required regular reporting procedures for the licensed producers, consistent with the prescription monitoring program requirements of the respective provincial and territorial jurisdictions.
2. The CMA recommends that Health Canada support the integration of marijuana for medical purposes within provincial/territorial prescription monitoring programs, including facilitating the availability of a point-of-care access tool for health care practitioners.
3. The CMA recommends that the proposed amendments to the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations be reviewed and revised as necessary to ensure it meets the standards of the CMA's Principles for the Protection of Patients' Personal Health Information and the CMA's Principles Concerning Physician Information.
4. The CMA recommends that Health Canada undertake a privacy impact assessment of the proposed amendments to the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations.
5. The CMA recommends additional effort and action on the part of Health Canada to ensure compliance and enforcement of direct-to-consumer advertising provisions of the Food and Drugs Act and Narcotic Control Regulations.
6. The CMA recommends that Health Canada issue guidance documentation outlining compliance with these standards.
List of Appendices:
* Appendix A - CMA Policy Statement: Medical Marijuana
* Appendix B - CMA Policy Statement: Principles for the Protection of Patient ' s Personal Health Information
* Appendix C - CMA Policy Statement: Principles Concerning Physician Information
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present this brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for consideration as part of its study of Bill C-17, Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act, which proposes amendments to the Food and Drugs Act.
The CMA has over 80,000 physician-members. Its mission is to serve and unite the physicians of Canada and to be the national advocate, in partnership with the people of Canada, for the highest standards of health and health care.
Prescription medication has a very important role as part of a high-quality, patient-centred and cost-effective health care system. Prescription medication can prevent serious disease, reduce the need for hospital stays, replace surgical treatment and improve a patient's capacity to function productively in the community. As such, the CMA has developed a substantial body of policy on pharmaceutical issues, including on the post-approval surveillance of prescription medication. Over the last several years, the CMA has prepared several briefs and reports on pharmaceutical medication and prescribing-related issues.1 It is a priority to physicians that all Canadians have access to medically-necessary drugs that are safe, effective, affordable, appropriately prescribed and administered, as part of a comprehensive, patient-centered health care and treatment plan.
The CMA supports a robust legislative framework and unbiased, evidence-based system for the oversight of pharmaceutical products. As outlined below, the CMA has identified opportunities to strengthen elements of Bill C-17 toward this end.
1) Clarify ministerial authority and responsibility
The current legislative limit to the health minister's authorities is troubling. The CMA, along with many other stakeholders, has long called for an expansion of ministerial authorities related to the pharmaceutical legislative framework, including both pre- and post-approval, in support of patient safety.
The CMA supports the underlying intent to expand the authority of the health minister to require the submission of information, modify the label or replace the package, to order a recall or relocation of a product. However, the CMA has two concerns regarding the limitations to this expanded authority (section 3, proposed new FDA sections 21.1, 21.2 and 21.3):
* Firstly, that the threshold for the new authorities in section 3 (new proposed section 21.1, 21.2, and 21.3 of the FDA) may be too high. The term "serious risk of injury to health" will be the standard for these new ministerial powers and may limit the authority of the minister to take action when the concern may be serious, but not necessarily permanently debilitating or life threatening.
* Secondly, that the minister is not required to take any of the actions proposed in Bill C-17 even if the threshold is met (these sections specify that the minister "may" take the specified action, rather than the minister "shall"). While seemingly minor, the difference between "may" and "shall" is the difference between having the authority to take action and being responsible to take this action. This difference is critical to a robust legislative framework for patient safety.
In order to clarify the health minister's authority to take appropriate measures to protect patient safety, the CMA recommends that the standard "a serious risk of injury to human health" in section 3 proposed new FDA section 21.1 and "serious or imminent risk of injury to health" in section 3 proposed new FDA section 21.3 be amended to ensure an appropriate threshold that does not constrain ministerial authority.
Recommendation 2: To ensure that the health minister has the clear responsibility to take appropriate measures to protect patient safety, the CMA recommends that the word "may" is replaced with "shall" in section 3, proposed new FDA sections 21.1, 21.2 and 21.3.
2) Oversight of natural health products
The extensive use of natural health products, such as vitamins and herbal medicines, is partially due to a belief that such products are "natural" and thus low risk. Increasingly, it has become clear that these products can have adverse effects, including drug interactions. However, relatively little is known about the adverse effects associated with natural health products due to its limited legislative and regulatory requirements, including reporting.
To ensure that patient safety risks associated with natural health products are addressed, these products should be included in the new patient safety legislation, as proposed in the previous iteration of this legislation in 2008, Bill C-51 An act respecting foods, therapeutic products and cosmetics. The CMA encourages the Health Committee to include natural health products within the scope of Bill C-17, as a first step toward ensuring that natural health products are subject to the same regulatory requirements and oversight as are prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals in order to promote patient safety.
Recommendation 3: The ministerial authorities and measures proposed in Bill C-17 should be extended to include natural health products and, as such, CMA recommends that the definition of "therapeutic product" in section 2(3), be amended to include natural health products.
3) Comprehensive post-market surveillance and response system
The CMA has advocated for significant improvements to Health Canada's post-market surveillance and response system in light of significant shortcomings.
A) Increasing accountability and public transparency
Robust accountability and transparency are important elements in the legislative framework governing the post-market surveillance and response system. The 2011 report of the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (OAG) highlighted significant concerns regarding this system, not least of which being Health Canada's failure to meet its own benchmarks in reviewing and responding to pharmaceutical safety issues. While there was no assessment of the benchmarks themselves, as is typical with an audit, the OAG report highlighted a number of issues with Health Canada's approach to measuring its performance against its benchmarks.
Following the publication of the OAG audit report, Health Canada's 2013-14 Main Estimates and Report of Plans and Priorities2 shows cuts in both budget and staff allocation for health products (which includes drug oversight). The 2011 OAG report states that "Canada's small population reduces the likelihood of serious, rare adverse drug reactions being identified in this country; therefore, the capacity to search and analyze foreign reports electronically would contribute to more comprehensive safety monitoring."3 Of note, the audit found that Health Canada "does not take timely action in its regulatory activities" (...). "In particular, the Department is slow to assess potential safety issues. It can take more than two years to complete an assessment of potential safety issues and to provide Canadians with new safety information."4
Despite Health Canada's March 2013 update on its efforts to address the OAG recommendations5 the status of the improvements to the reporting tools, timeliness of information or quality of information provided to practitioners and patients remains unclear.
The preceding paragraphs capture a number of issues pertaining to the post-approval surveillance and response system; it is imperative that Health Canada not only address these issues, but that Health Canada has adequate resources to do so. This is paramount prior to any consideration of expanding the input of reporting data.
Recommendation 4: The CMA recommends that Bill C-17 be amended to require Health Canada undertake public consultations in establishing its performance benchmarks related to adverse drug reaction reporting, analysis and response communication.
Recommendation 5: The CMA recommends that Bill C-17 be amended to establish a new public reporting requirement of its performance in meeting its performance benchmarks.
B) Improving the reporting and communication system
The CMA cautions against the advancement of new legislative authority with respect to mandatory reporting of serious adverse drug reactions prior to the improvement of the system and model currently in place.
Information gathering does not in itself constitute post-market surveillance. In our opinion, the most important element of the process is the monitoring and analysis that occurs once an adverse drug reaction report has been received. Monitoring capacity requires rigorous data analysis and, to be useful in preventing further adverse events, it must be timely. As well, it should also provide information about a drug's efficacy and effectiveness.
When new information is uncovered about a prescription drug, it is important that health professionals are made aware of it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore, post-approval surveillance requires a system for communicating timely, reliable and objective information in a manner that allows them to incorporate it into their everyday practice. Ideally, this communication would report not the safety problem alone but also its implications for their patients and practice: for example, whether some patients are particularly at risk, or whether therapeutic alternatives are available. Such feedback will encourage further reporting.
In order to improve patient safety, the CMA recommends that Health Canada's establish a model that includes:
* Making it easier for physicians and other health professionals to report adverse drug reactions by making the reporting system user-friendly and easy to incorporate into a practitioner's busy schedule. Currently the existing system imposes an unnecessary administrative burden that comes at the expense of time dedicated to patient care.
* Making the reporting process even more efficient by incorporating it directly into the Electronic Health Record systems. Health Canada has improved the process by introducing online reporting, which may have contributed to the significant increase in the number of reports over the past 10 years, but being able to connect patient information with drugs they are taking, reporting of adverse drug reactions and safety information would improve care on the front line.
* Augmenting spontaneous reports with information gathered through other, more systematic means. These could include formal post-market studies of specific drugs, or recruitment of "sentinel" groups of health care providers who would contract to report adverse drug reactions in detail, and who would be committed to assiduous reporting.
* Linking to international post-approval surveillance systems, thus increasing the body of data at researchers' disposal, as well as the capacity for meaningful analysis.
Health Canada should take a leadership role in ensuring that the public has access to appropriate information on drugs and drug safety, engaging civil society at the appropriate phases of the process. In providing this information, Health Canada should consider the management and communication of risk, and take into account the diversity of Canada's population. Access to accurate, unbiased information allows people to make decisions regarding their own health.
In addition to ensuring a comprehensive model is in place, it is essential that there be more clarity in Bill C-17 regarding what constitutes a "prescribed health care institution". There are very different changes to the system that would need to be in place should it refer to tertiary care hospitals, community hospitals, clinics or doctors in family practice. Bill C-17 must not place an unnecessary administrative burden, which would ultimately fall on health professionals. Further, it is unclear whether a cost assessment of the proposed new requirements for health care institutions with respect to provincial/territorial resources has been undertaken. Only those health care institutions that are best positioned to improve the quantity and quality of reporting should be required to report.
Another term that requires clarification in the legislation is "serious adverse drug reaction". It should be clear whether it means adverse drug reactions that require visits to emergency departments or hospitalization, or whether there are other criteria to define it.
Recommendation 6: The CMA recommends that Bill C-17 be amended to require that Health Canada implement comprehensive post-surveillance monitoring and reporting model that includes:
* Accessible, comprehensive and user-friendly reporting tools that are clinically relevant and linked to electronic health records;
* Rigorous and timely analysis of reports for the early identification and response to emerging drug safety threats; and
* Communication of timely, user-friendly and clinically-relevant information to health care practitioners and the public.
Recommendation 7: The CMA recommends amendment of Bill C-17 section 5, proposed new FDA section 21.8, to require that an assessment by the minister for reporting regulations be undertaken following a prescribed period after this new model is established; that this assessment precede the coming into force of expanded mandatory reporting.
Recommendation 8: The CMA recommends that essential terminology be defined in Bill C-17, including (a) "serious adverse drug reaction" and (b) "health care institution".
Canada's physicians are prepared to work with governments, health professionals and the public in strengthening Canada's post-approval surveillance system, to ensure that the prescription drugs Canadians receive are safe and effective.
1 Canadian Medical Association (2005) Building a Comprehensive Post-Market Surveillance System. CMA's Response to Health Canada's Discussion Paper 'Designing a Mandatory System for Reporting Serious Adverse Reactions'. CMA. Retrieved from: http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2005/English/Mandatory_Response.pdf
Canadian Medical Association (2014) Federal levers to address unintended consequences of prescription pharmaceuticals and support public health, quality care, and patient safety. CMA Submission to the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. CMA. Retrieved from: http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2014/SOCI_BriefEnglish-Final.pdf
Canadian Medical Association (2008) Post-Market Surveillance of Pharmaceutical Products. CMA Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. CMA. Retrieved from: https://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2008/brief-drug-en-08.pdf
Canadian Medical Association (2012) Prescription Drugs: Clinical Trials and Approval. CMA Presentation to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. CMA. Retrieved from: https://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2012/Senate-ClinicalTrials_en.pdf
Canadian Medical Association (2012) Prescription Pharmaceuticals in Canada: The Post-Approval Monitoring of Prescription Pharmaceuticals. CMA Submission to the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. CMA. Retrieved from: http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2012/Senate-Pharmaceuticals-Oct2012_en.pdf
Canadian Medical Association (2014) Review of Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Submission to Health Canada in response to the consultation on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its regulations. CMA. Retrieved from: http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2014/CMA_SubmissiontoHealthCanada-CDSA_Modernization.pdf
Canadian Medical Association (2013) The need for a national strategy to address abuse and misuse of prescription drugs in Canada. CMA Submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. CMA. Retrieved from: http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Submissions/2013/Prescription-Drug-Abuse_en.pdf
2 Health Canada (2013) 2013-14 Report on Plans and Priorities. Government of Canada.
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/alt_formats/pdf/performance/estim-previs/plans-prior/2013-2014/report-rapport-eng.pdf (pg 30)
3 Office of the Auditor General of Canada (2011) Chapter 4 Regulating Pharmaceutical Drugs - Health Canada. 2011 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/docs/parl_oag_201111_04_e.pdf (pg 21)
4 Office of the Auditor General of Canada (2011) Chapter 4 Regulating Pharmaceutical Drugs - Health Canada. 2011 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/docs/parl_oag_201111_04_e.pdf (pg 2)
5 Health Canada (2013) Update and response to OAG recommendations for the regulation of pharmaceutical drugs in Fall 2011. Government of Canada. Retrieved from:
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to present this brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for consideration as part of its study on the health risks and harms associated with the use of marijuana.
Marijuana, or cannabis, is a Schedule II drug under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and growing, possessing, distributing and selling marijuana is illegal, subject to penalties.
Despite that, according to the latest Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey1, about 10% of Canadians ages 15 years and over had used marijuana at least once in the past year. It is the second most used substance, following alcohol (at 78%). Even though there has been a decrease in marijuana use among youth (ages 15 to 24) in recent years, usage is still double that of the general population, at 20%. A quarter of youth that had used marijuana in the past 3 months, used it daily, however most use is infrequent and experimental. The average age of initiation is 16.1 years, and it is very concerning that continued use is most common among those who initiate use early. In some provinces, about 50% of students in grade 12 have reported using marijuana in the past year.2
The 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey - Mental Health3 reported that 1.3% of people aged 15 and over met the criteria for cannabis abusea or dependenceb - double that of any other drugs. The lifetime risk of dependence is estimated at about 9%, increasing to almost 17% in those who initiate use in adolescence.4 Similar estimates for other substances are 15% for alcohol, 23% for heroin and 32% for nicotine.
CMA has longstanding concerns about the health risks associated with smoking marijuana. While our comments have more recently been made in the context of medical marijuana, the core issue is the same: marijuana usage poses serious health risks5. Teenagers are particularly at risk for marijuana-related harms, given their brain is undergoing rapid, extensive development.
It is estimated that marijuana contains more than 400 active chemicals, including over 60 cannabinoids, of which delta-9 tetra-hydrocannabinol (THC) is the most often studied due to its psychoactive properties. The concentration of the various chemicals varies for different plants, batches and growth locations, and has varied over time. There is the potential for contamination by pesticides or other substances. Rates and quantities of components absorbed will also vary depending on whether the drug is smoked, used in food, inhaled with a vaporizer or applied topically. This is challenging for research on the health effects of marijuana.
When marijuana is smoked, THC and other components are inhaled and absorbed through the lungs, rapidly entering the bloodstream. Effects are perceptible within seconds and fully apparent in a few minutes. The main feature of its use is that it produces a feeling of euphoria (or 'high') and sensory alterations, but it is also sought out to reduce pain, relieve anxiety, decrease vomiting and increase appetite.
Adverse reactions can occur, such as drowsiness, sedation, blurred vision, photophobia, difficulty breathing and vomiting. However, its acute toxicity is extremely low, as no deaths directly due to acute cannabis use have been reported. Toxic dose-related effects that can occur include anxiety, panic, depression, paranoia or psychosis. Acute impairment typically clears 3-4 hours after use.
Marijuana slows reaction times, impairs motor coordination and concentration as well as the completion of complex tasks. 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 Student Alcohol and Drug Use6 report 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.
Chronic use is more common among those that start using as young teens; those that are tobacco smokers and heavy alcohol consumers and have used other illegal drugs. People with a number of pre-existing diseases who are chronic smokers of marijuana are probably at increased risk of exacerbating the symptoms of their diseases. For example, adults with hypertension, ischaemic or cerebrovascular disease could be at increased risk due to the cardiovascular stimulatory effects of marijuana.
There is an increased risk of psychosis, depression and anxiety, particularly among those who have a personal or family history. A persistent lack of energy in chronic users has been referred to as an "amotivational syndrome". Although cognitive impairments (loss of memory, focus and the ability to think and make decisions) are likely reversible a few weeks after discontinued use, this seems not to be true for those who began using in early teen years, while the brain is still developing.
Smoke from marijuana preparations contains many of the same compounds as tobacco cigarettes including increased levels of tar. Smoking marijuana may be more harmful than tobacco, as it often involves unfiltered smoke and deeper, longer inhalation. Chronic users often have shortness of breath after exercise, coughing and chest tightness. It is probably associated with bronchitis and emphysema and may have risks for chronic lung disease and lung cancer, comparable to cigarette smoking. This is less of a problem for those that use vaporizers, as a harm reduction strategy.
The use of marijuana during pregnancy has been shown to affect the development and learning skills of children, more noticeably from the age of three, with these effects lasting into the teen years. Studies have shown an increase in hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. These children will be more prone to addiction and mental health issues as well as decreased cognitive functioning, and could require supports when in school. Some studies point to a lower birth weight.
Besides health concerns, marijuana use can lead to social and interpersonal problems, including difficulties at school, in relationships and with the law.
Awareness of Canadians of the harms of marijuana is generally low. 7 Youth tend to emphasize the drug's ability to help them focus, relax, sleep, reduce violent behaviour and improve creativity. There were also many myths, such as that it would counter cigarette effects, preventing cancer. Many stated that they did not consider marijuana as a drug because it was "natural" and relatively benign compared to other drugs. It is concerning that some teens said that marijuana actually made people better drivers by increasing their focus.
There seems to be skepticism around prevention programs which aim exclusively at abstinence. Feedback has been that effective approaches would involve providing more fact-based information at an earlier age and using programs that aim at reducing the harms of using marijuana. It is essential that youth and users from other age groups be involved in the conceptualization and development of any such programs.
CMA makes the following recommendations to the Committee:
1) Public Health Approach to Psychoactive Substance Use
The CMA recommends that the federal government adopt a public health approach to increase the focus on preventing drug abuse, on treatment of addiction, on monitoring, surveillance and research and on harm reduction.
Addiction should be recognized and treated as a serious, relapsing chronic disease, and substance use is a complex behaviour influenced by many factors. Therefore, a comprehensive multi-factorial strategy is necessary, and lessons can be learned from work that has been done to decrease tobacco and alcohol use and to reduce the harms related to these substances.
A public health approach would place an increased focus on preventing drug abuse and dependence; on the availability of assessment, counselling and treatment services for those who wish to stop using; and on harm reduction to increase the safety for those that are using. It would seek to ensure 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.
The CMA believes that resources currently devoted to combating simple marijuana possession through the criminal law could be diverted to public health strategies, particularly for youth.
A public health approach also includes efforts around the monitoring, surveillance and research of marijuana use to better inform the strategy. This is essential to better understand the short and long term harms as well as policy options to address prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement.
2) Comprehensive Education and Awareness Program to Address Marijuana Use
The CMA recommends that the federal government develop, in collaboration with the provinces and territories and key stakeholders, a comprehensive education and awareness program to minimize marijuana use.
A comprehensive program to minimize marijuana use should include, but not be limited to:
- Education and awareness raising of the known and potential harms of marijuana;
- Strategies to prevent early use in adolescence;
- Support for programs that decrease stigma associated with mental health and addiction; and
- Support for health professionals' awareness and evidence-informed practice in the prevention, management and treatment of drug use.
A specific focus on youth is essential, as they are not only more likely than adults to engage in risky drug use, particularly boys, but also disproportionately experience greater harms from that use. It is also particularly important for women of child bearing age, due to the risk to the fetus during pregnancy.
Information that is tailored to the needs of specific populations will help people make informed choices. Efforts to prevent, reduce or delay the use of marijuana could result in a reduction of suffering and costs to the health care system.
Health professionals must be involved and supported in this area, and it is important to ensure the availability of evidence informed clinical practice guidelines, practice tools and continuing medical education resources.
3) Driving Under the Influence Prevention
The CMA recommends that the federal government continue to support, in collaboration with the provinces and territories and key stakeholders, strategies for the prevention of impaired driving.
The CMA believes that comprehensive long-term efforts that incorporate both deterrent legislation and public awareness and education constitute the most effective approach to reducing the number of lives lost and injuries suffered in crashes involving impaired drivers due to marijuana.
Efforts to prevent, reduce or delay marijuana use, especially in youth, are particularly important. Education is also important as many are not aware that marijuana affects driving ability or even that there are procedures that the police can use to identify impairment due to psychoactive substances.
The CMA supports a similar multidimensional approach such as has been adopted with alcohol and driving. However, the specificities of impairment due to marijuana must be understood and investments made in research. Collaboration with key stakeholders such as schools, drivers' education and licensing bodies, as well as enforcement organizations is essential.
In conclusion, the Canadian Medical Association reiterates the concern of Canada's physicians around marijuana use, particularly by young people. We are committed to working with governments and stakeholders to address this issue.
a 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.
b 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.
1 Health Canada (2013) Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey (CADUMS). Retrieved from: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hc-ps/drugs-drogues/stat/_2012/summary-sommaire-eng.php
2 Young, M.M. et al. (2011) Cross-Canada report on student alcohol and drug use: Technical report. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/2011_CCSA_Student_Alcohol_and_Drug_Use_en.pdf
3 Statistics Canada (2013) Canadian Community Health Survey - Mental Health. Retrieved from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/130918/dq130918a-eng.htm
4 Hall, W. & Degenhardt, L. (2009) Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. The Lancet, 374; October 17. Retrieved from: http://mobile.legaliser.nu/sites/default/files/files/Adverse%20health%20effects%20of%20non-medical%20cannabis%20use.pdf
5 Beirness, D.J., & Porath-Waller, A.J. (2009). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Cannabis use and driving. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2009%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa-11789-2009.pdf.
Diplock, J., & Plecas, D. (2009). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Respiratory effects of cannabis smoking. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2009%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa-11797-2009.pdf.
Gordon, A.J., Conley, J.W. & Gordon, J.M. (2013) Medical consequences of marijuana use: a review of the current literature. Curr Psychiatry Rep 15:419.
Hall, W. & Degenhardt, L. (2009) Adverse health effects of non-medical cannabis use. The Lancet, 374; October 17. Retrieved from: http://mobile.legaliser.nu/sites/default/files/files/Adverse%20health%20effects%20of%20non-medical%20cannabis%20use.pdf
Holmes, E., Vanlaar, W. & Robertson, R. (2014) The problem of youth drugged driving and approaches to prevention: a systematic literature review: Technical report. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Youth-Drugged-Driving-technical-report-2014-en.pdf
Kalant, H., & Porath-Waller, A.J. (2012). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2012%20CCSA%20Documents/CCSA-Medical-Use-of-Cannabis-2012-en.pdf.
Porath-Waller, A.J. (2013). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Highlights. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2013%20CCSA%20Documents/CCSA-Clearing-Smoke-on-Cannabis-Highlights-2013-en.pdf.
Porath-Waller, A.J. (2009a). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Chronic use and cognitive functioning and mental health. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2009%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa0115422009_e.pdf.
Porath-Waller, A.J. (2009b). Clearing the smoke on cannabis: Maternal cannabis use during pregnancy. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.ccsa.ca/2009%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa0117832009_e.pdf.
6 Young, M.M. et al. (2011) Cross-Canada report on student alcohol and drug use: Technical report. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Retrieved from: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/2011_CCSA_Student_Alcohol_and_Drug_Use_en.pdf
7 Cunningham, J.A., Blomqvist, J., Koski-Jannes, A., & Raitasalo, K. (2012). Societal Images of Cannabis use: Comparing Three Countries. Harm reduction journal, 9(1), 21-7517-9-21. Retrieved from: http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1477-7517-9-21.pdf
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The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce study of Bill C-31 the Budget Implementation Bill, in particular the section concerned with tobacco taxation.
Tobacco use is still the number one cause of preventable disease and death in Canada, claiming 37,000 or more Canadians' lives every year. It is a major risk factor for the chronic diseases that burden Canadians and their health care system, and it costs the country over $17 billion per year for medical treatment, social assistance, lost productivity and reduced quality of life. While progress has been made in lowering smoking rates and changing attitudes towards smoking much work remains - nearly 4.6 million Canadians still smoke.
Physicians have been warning of the dangers of smoking for over 50 years. Canada's doctors treat the harmful effects of tobacco use every day in their offices, and see first-hand the devastation it causes to patients and their families. The CMA has consistently recommended tough legislative and regulatory measures to control tobacco use. Comprehensive tobacco control efforts must include legislation, regulation, together with public education and smoking cessation programs.
Impact of Price on Smoking
Research has shown that an increase in cigarette prices has an impact on reducing both the number of cigarettes smoked and smoking prevalence rates. Permanent, inflation-adjusted increases in cigarette prices, which could be achieved by increasing cigarette taxes, will contribute to reducing cigarette smoking rates in Canada. Youth are up to three times more sensitive to price than adults, with a 10 per cent price increase estimated to reduce youth smoking prevalence by 5 per cent or more and also to reduce cigarette consumption among continuing young smokersi
With the current smoking rate of 20 per cent among Canadian young adults, higher than the smoking rate for the rest of Canada which is 16 per cent, additional initiatives to reduce smoking in this population are urgently required.
Research has also shown that persons of low socioeconomic status are more responsive to price than the general population but it is less clear on the impact on long-term heavy smokers and aboriginal smokersii
Estimates imply that the long-run effect of a permanent price increase is approximately double the short-run impact. Thus, a 10 per cent increase in cigarette price is expected to reduce the prevalence of cigarette smoking by approximately 8 per cent in the long run.iii
Excise Tax Adjustments
The current proposal to adjust the domestic rate of excise duty on tobacco products to account for inflation and eliminate the preferential excise duty treatment of tobacco products available through duty free markets will increase the cost of cigarettes and other tobacco products like fine-cut tobacco for use in roll-your-own cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars. For example, the government has stated that the excise "duty free" rate for cigarettes will increase from $15.00 to $21.03 per carton of 200 cigarettes. The commitment to make an automatic inflation adjustment every 5 years is a means to ensure that tobacco tax rates retain their real value in the future.
The CMA recommends passage of the proposal under Part 3 of Bill C-31 to increase the domestic rate of excise duty, accounting for inflation and eliminating the preferential excise duty treatment of tobacco products. This proposal represents a positive step toward the development of a federal integrated tobacco tax strategy for both domestic and imported products, and speaks to the importance of the relationship between health policy and tax policy.
There is a risk that a rise in tobacco taxes with the resultant rise in the cost of smoking will lead to an increase in the smuggling of lower-cost cigarettes. To avoid potential unintended consequences, such as smuggling, the CMA recommends that the federal government work with other countries to ensure that tobacco prices are harmonized across national borders. In addition, all levels of government should take the most stringent measures possible to control the sale and distribution of contraband tobacco, on their own and in cooperation with other affected jurisdictions.
Investing Tobacco Taxes in Health Promotion
The Minister of Finance has estimated that increasing tobacco taxes, including excise taxes on tobacco products, will increase federal tax revenues by $96 million in 2013-14, 685 million in 2014-15 and $660 million in 2015-16.
The CMA recommends that the revenue from increased taxation should be directed towards strengthening Canada's tobacco control strategy.
The CMA recommends that tobacco taxation policy should be used in conjunction with other strategies for promoting healthy public policy, such as public education programs to reduce tobacco use. The federal government should place a high priority for funding tobacco prevention and evidence-based cessation programs for young Canadians as early as primary school age. For these, substantial and sustainable funding is required.
A portion of these tobacco taxes should also be used to defray the costs of tobacco interventions, including physician-based clinical tobacco intervention services and up to 12 weeks stop-smoking medication annually per smoker. We encourage the government to focus their efforts on "high-risk" and "hard-to-reach" populations.
For Canada's Tobacco Control strategy to continue to reduce smoking rates in Canada we must continue to assess evolving best practices in smoking cessation programs, and conduct research on the impact of policies on high risk populations.
The CMA recommends that a portion of the revenues from tobacco taxes can be directed towards supporting evidence-based action to reduce tobacco use. This evidence comes from surveying Canadians on smoking behavior, conducting research and evaluation, and keeping track of trends and emerging issues.
The CMA supports increasing the excise duty on tobacco products. An increase in the excise duty tax on tobacco products is long overdue and a welcome contribution to efforts already underway to further reduce smoking rates in Canada.
Summary of Recommendations
The CMA recommends passage of the proposal under Part 3 of Bill C-31 to increase the domestic rate of excise duty, accounting for inflation and eliminating the preferential excise duty treatment of tobacco products.
The CMA recommends that the federal government work with other countries to ensure that tobacco prices are harmonized across national borders to avoid potential unintended consequences, such as smuggling.
The CMA recommends that the revenue from increased taxation should be directed towards strengthening Canada's tobacco control strategy.
The CMA recommends that tobacco taxation policy should be used in conjunction with other strategies for promoting healthy public policy, such as public education programs to reduce tobacco use.
The CMA recommends that a portion of the revenues from tobacco taxes can be directed towards supporting evidence-based action to reduce tobacco use.
i The Impact of Price on Youth Tobacco Use, Tobacco Control Monograph NO. 14
Frank J. Chaloupka, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula
ii Effects of Tobacco Taxation and Pricing on Smoking Behavior in High Risk Populations: A Knowledge Synthesis
Pearl Bader, David Boisclair, Roberta Ferrence
Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 November; 8(11): 4118-4139. Published online 2011 October 26. doi: 10.3390/ijerph8114118
iii The Impact of Price on Youth Tobacco Use, Tobacco Control Monograph NO. 14
Frank J. Chaloupka, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula