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 present this brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for consideration as part of its study on the government's role in addressing prescription drug abuse in Canada.
It is increasingly recognized that while prescription medication has an important role in health care, the misuse and abuse of controlled psychoactive prescription medications, notably opioids such as oxycodone, fentanyl and hydromorphone, is emerging as a significant public health and safety issue. The use of prescription opioids is on the rise, in Canada and internationally. Canada has the second highest per capita consumption of prescription opioids in the world, after the United States. The CMA is particularly concerned about the impact of prescription drug abuse and misuse on vulnerable populations; notably, seniors, youth and First Nations. We note, for example, that in 2011 opioids were reported as the third most common drug (after alcohol and marijuana) used by students in Ontario.
Controlled prescription medications are legal products intended for legitimate therapeutic purposes, such as pain management or palliative and end-of-life care. However, they may also be used for recreational purposes or to feed an addiction. Though many patients are prescribed controlled drugs to treat medical conditions, it is addiction which drives the drugs' illegal acquisition through means such as doctor-shopping, forging prescribers' signatures, or buying from street dealers or the Internet.
Canada's physicians are concerned about the abuse and misuse of prescription medication for a number of reasons. For one, physicians need to assess the condition of patients who request the medication, and consider whether the use is clinically indicated and whether the benefits outweigh the risks. This can be challenging as there is no objective test for assessing pain, and therefore the prescription of opioids rests to a great extent on mutual trust between the physician and the patient. For another, physicians may need to prescribe treatment for patients who become addicted to the medications. Finally, they are vulnerable to patients who forge their signatures or use other illegal means to obtain prescriptions, or who present with fraudulent symptoms, or plead or threaten when denied the drugs they have requested.
Canada's physicians believe that the misuse and abuse of prescription medication is a serious problem and because of its complexity, requires a complex and multifaceted solution. Therefore, the CMA makes the following recommendations to the Committee:
1) A National Strategy to Address the Abuse and Misuse of Prescription Medication
The CMA recommends 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 has consistently recommended a comprehensive national strategy to address the problems of drug abuse in Canada, whether of illegal or prescription-based substances. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, in its report First Do No Harm: Responding to Canada's Prescription Drug Crisis, has offered nearly 60 recommendations toward the development of a strategy to combat misuse of prescription medications. The CMA believes that such a strategy should include:
a) Prevention: Existing community programs and social marketing campaigns to address prescription drug abuse are generally aimed at young recreational users. For example, since many such users report that they get drugs from their parents' or friends' medicine cabinets, many jurisdictions have implemented prescription "take-back" programs, and education campaigns to promote safe storage and disposal of medications. Prevention strategies aimed at other types of prescription drug abuse, and targeting other populations such as health care providers, are still required.
b) Treatment: Appropriate services for the treatment of addiction to prescription drugs are also a vital part of a national strategy. The CMA recommends that all partners work to improve and promote access to treatment programs - not only for treatment of addiction, such as pharmacological interventions, support and counselling, and withdrawal management, but also to treat and manage pain. In particular, the CMA recommends improving access to culturally appropriate treatment, counselling and withdrawal management programs in rural and remote areas, and for First Nations.
c) Consumer Protection: There are several ways in which consumer protection strategies may form part of a strategy. One is modifications to the drugs themselves. For example, opioid manufacturers have developed formulations of their products intended to minimize their abuse potential, such as "slow-release" formulations and other forms of tamper-proofing to reduce a drug's potential for abuse. CMA supports further investigation into abuse-deterrent technologies.
d) Surveillance and Research: Our knowledge of the extent of the prescription drug abuse problem in Canada, and the effectiveness of strategies proposed to combat it, is limited by a number of factors. These will be more specifically addressed later in this brief.
2) Strategies to Enhance Optimal Prescribing in Canada
The CMA recommends that governments at all levels work with prescribers and the public, industry and other stakeholders to develop and implement a nationwide strategy to support optimal prescribing and medication use in Canada.
In an ideal world, all patients would be prescribed the medications that have the most beneficial effect on their condition while doing the least possible harm. The CMA acknowledges that we have not yet achieved that ideal, but believes that optimal prescribing in Canada is a goal worth achieving. Our 2010 position statement "A Prescription for Optimal Prescribing" (Appendix A) recommends a national strategy to promote best practices in prescribing, and its recommendations can be applied to the specific situation of prescription drug abuse. Key elements of this strategy are:
* Relevant, objective and easily accessible information for prescribers, which can readily be incorporated into every day practice. This can include clinical decision-support tools for use at the point of care.
* Ongoing development and dissemination of clinical guidance in pain management. A Canadian practice guideline for use of opioids to treat chronic non-cancer pain, prepared under the direction of the multi-stakeholder National Opioid Use Guideline Group (NOUGG), was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on June 15, 2010. A number of plans for dissemination of this guideline are under way, under the direction of the Michael G. DeGroote National Pain Centre at McMaster University. They include an online CME module, co-sponsored by the CMA, which is now being finalized by MDcme.ca, a professional education group based at Memorial University.
* Educational programs for prescribers in pain management and in the management of addictions. Both addiction treatment and pain management should be part of the educational curriculum in medical school and residency training as well as in continuing education. Educational programs could also provide prescribers with advice on how to recognize addiction in a patient, or on how to deal with fraudulent or aggressive patients.
* Ensuring that prescribers have access to expert advice if required. This could be achieved through such means as:
o Academic detailing programs, which use personalized one-on-one techniques to deliver impartial prescribing information to practitioners.
o Communities of practice and clinical support networks that link practitioners with experts in the field. Experts can not only provide clinical information, but can provide mentorship and personal advice on best practices.
3) Monitoring and Surveillance of Prescription Drug Abuse
The CMA recommends that all levels of government work with one another and health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription drug abuse monitoring and surveillance.
One of the challenges in dealing with prescription drug abuse is the incompleteness of our knowledge of the extent of the problem, or of the most effective ways to address it. This means that physicians do not have access in real time to the information they need, at the point of care. For example, except in Prince Edward Island, physicians do not have the ability to look up a patient's medical history to determine if he or she has received a prescription from another source.
Prescription monitoring programs exist in most provinces, but they vary in quality, in the nature of the information they require, and in the purpose for which data is collected. Some are administered by regulatory colleges, others by governments. The CMA recommends that national standards be developed for prescription monitoring programs, to ensure that all jurisdictions across Canada are collecting the same information in a standard way. Standardization of surveillance and monitoring systems can have a number of positive effects:
* It can help identify fraudulent attempts to obtain a prescription, such as an attempt to fill prescriptions from a number of different providers.
* It can help deter cross-provincial fraud.
* It can help professional regulatory bodies actively monitor and intervene, as needed, with practitioners suspected of over-prescribing or over-dispensing frequently-misused medications.
* Finally, it will help researchers gather consistent data to improve our knowledge of the problem, identify research priorities, and determine best practices to address crucial issues.
The CMA also recommends that this system be electronic and that it be compatible with electronic medical and pharmacy record systems, and with provincial pharmaceutical databases such as British Columbia's.
Provincial and territorial governments should work with the federal government and with health care providers to improve the standardization and sharing of information where appropriate. Prescription monitoring programs should be evaluated to ascertain their effectiveness in reducing misuse and abuse.
We are pleased that federal, provincial and territorial health ministries have expressed interest in working together on issues related to prescription drug abuse, and we hope that this will result in a coherent national system for monitoring and surveillance, and thus to improved knowledge about the nature of the problem and its most effective solutions.
In conclusion, the Canadian Medical Association reiterates the deep concern of Canada's physicians about prescription drug abuse and misuse in this country. We are committed to enhancing optimal prescribing and to working with governments to develop and implement a strong, coherent plan of action to address this pressing national problem.
Position Statement on Prescription Drug Shortages in Canada
The escalation in shortages of prescription drugs in the past few years and the ongoing disruptions to supply experienced in Canada and globally are matters of grave concern to the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and its members. Drug shortages are having a detrimental impact on the delivery of patient care and treatment and the availability of health care services across the country.
CMA has advocated for a thorough examination of the drug supply system to identify points where we in Canada can influence supply problems. Solutions will have to involve the various players in the drug supply chain, from manufacturers through to healthcare providers and levels of government.
Drug shortages are not a problem confined to Canada. In the United States the number of drug shortages from 2006 to 2010 grew by more than 200 per cent.1 In 2011, 251 shortages were reported to the FDA. 2 Canada has not had an accurate record of the number of drugs in short supply over past years but in April 2013 253 drugs were listed on the industry sponsored Canadian Drug Shortage Website.3
Factors that influence the occurrence of a drug shortage can occur at any stage of the drug supply chain and any disruptions can ripple through the system.
Figure 1 Drug supply chain in Canada4 [See PDF]
There are many causes that can lead to a drug shortage. Disruptions in the supply of an active or key ingredient contribute to drug shortages and this is exacerbated when the active ingredient is produced by a single raw material supplier. If the supplier is unable to meet demand than all manufacturers relying on that supply become vulnerable to disruptions. The sourcing of raw materials from outside of North America, primarily China and India, whose safety and regulatory standards may not be stringently enforced can result in regulatory authorities closing down facilities thereby impacting supply of active ingredients or necessitating a lengthy search for a new supplier.
Additional manufacturing issues contributing to shortages can include complex manufacturing processes like those used to make sterile injectables, changes in product formulations, problems in the production process or regulatory enforcement of good manufacturing processes, limited capacity, an unexpected surge in demand, regulatory delays in product approvals and business decisions. 5
Shortages may also be due to factors outside the manufacturers control such as various interruptions in the normal delivery of medicines through the pharmacy supply chain and distribution network6. Just in time inventory management practices can lead to a reduction of available drug inventories. In addition procurement strategies that lead to sole source contracts for bulk purchases has been identified as the single most avoidable cause of drug shortages. 7
Disruptions in the supply of medications have the potential to impact patient care, patient health and the efficiency of the overall health care system.
Among the impacts of drug shortages are:
- delays in access to needed medication;
- delays or disruptions to clinical treatment;
- delayed or cancelled surgeries,
- loss of therapeutic effectiveness when an appropriate alternate therapy is not available;
- increased risk of side effects;
- increased non-compliance when changes in medication make it confusing and harder to comply with a new medication regime particularly for those on long term therapy.8
Any and all of these situations can result in a disruption to clinical stability and deterioration, particularly in patients with complex problems. Drug substitution can also result in unintended consequences. In 2010 an Institute of Safe Medication Practices survey of 1800 US health professionals revealed that in one year drug shortages caused over 1000 incidents involving negative side effects or medical errors. 9 In many instances shortages can lead to an increase in the use of the health care system, be it in physician or emergency room visits or treatments.
A CMA survey of physicians in September 2012 found that 66% of respondents indicated that drug shortages have gotten worse since 2010 and 64% stated that the shortages have had consequences for their patients or practice. Similarly, the results of the 2012 Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) survey of pharmacists found that over 91% of pharmacists indicated that patients had been inconvenienced by shortages and 51% indicated that patients' care had been compromised.10
Drug shortages also have an impact on the practices of physicians and pharmacists. Sixty seven percent of the respondents to the CMA survey stated that drug shortages do have an impact on their practice most notably by increasing time spent on research or consultation with health professional colleagues to source alternative medicine, increase in length of patient visits due to medication substitution concerns, and increase in time spent on forms such as insurance claims. Seventy six percent of hospital pharmacists and 76 percent of community pharmacists also report an impact on their workload and practice.11
Since as early as 2005, the CMA has supported a comprehensive strategy and adequately resourced system for monitoring domestic drug supply. In response to a Health Canada consultation in October 2005 on a report entitled "Developing a Drug Supply Network" CMA recommended that Canada needs such a system to identify shortages and respond quickly to remedy them, and to ensure that policy and regulatory decisions are founded on accurate and reliable knowledge.
In March 2011 this position was reinforced in communication with the Government of Canada stating that Canada needs a sustainable, adequately resourced process to identify shortages, rapidly communicate them to health professionals and respond quickly to resolve them.
1. The Canadian Medical Association supports an investigation into the underlying causes of prescription drug shortages in Canada.
2. The Canadian Medical Association recommends the creation of a monitoring unit to track drug production disruptions in Canada and abroad.
The communication of information to health professionals once a shortage occurs, or is expected, is critical to their ability to make patient centered decisions and provide continuity of optimum care. CMA has participated on a Multi Stakeholder Working Group on Drug Shortages that has had the pharmaceutical industry and health professional organizations working together to establish a national drug shortage reporting website. CMA provided key input on the needs of needs of physicians to ensure that information required to provide optimum care when managing a drug shortage such as product information including name, manufacturer, formulation, strength, package size, expected duration of shortage, notification that shortage is resolved as well as automatic alerts and search and sort functionality was included on the website.
The establishment of the Canadian drug shortage website marks an improvement in the management of drug shortages but significant issues remain. Of great concern are drugs that are 'single sourced'. When there are shortages of single sourced medications there are no clear substitutes. Related to this are the unintended consequences of sole sourcing products from one manufacturer to secure a lower price. This introduces a vulnerability to the marketplace if the sole supplier experiences production disruptions. The 2011 production stoppage at a Sandoz facility in Quebec due to regulatory compliance issues and a subsequent fire in the plant resulted in a scramble to find alternate sources of many essential medications. The CMA supports the development of strategies at the provincial/territorial and federal level to discourage single source purchasing decisions. The inclusion of incentives or penalties for guaranteed supplies, or a contingency plan for supply disruptions should be inserted into purchase contracts. We must be extremely careful not to exacerbate supply problems while trying to address cost issues.
3. The Canadian Medical Association calls for a review of the supply processes in place for drugs and equipment considered essential for medical practice.
4. The Canadian Medical Association supports strategies to discourage single-source purchasing decisions for prescription medications.
Advance notice, by manufacturers to Health Canada, of expected drug shortages can provide a window of opportunity for the manufacturer and regulators to work together to resolve production problems or identify alternate supply. We are encouraged by recent initiatives by Health Canada to collect information on planned discontinuances from manufacturers.
5. The Canadian Medical Association calls for the establishment of a legislative framework requiring pharmaceutical companies to provide advance notice of production stoppages and any forecast disruptions in the drug supply.
Because of the complexity of the drug supply system, to effectively identify the situations that lead to drug shortages and find Canadian based solutions that can decrease the incidence of shortages or mitigate their impact requires the involvement and cooperation of all players in the process. CMA has consistently asked the government of Canada to work with the provinces and territories, the private sector and health professionals to address this potentially dangerous threat to the lives of Canadian patients.
6. The CMA supports the provinces and territories in their efforts to prevent drug shortages.
We are heartened by actions of Health Canada in 2012 to bring together representatives of industry, federal, provincial and territorial governments and health professional associations in a Multi Stakeholder Steering Committee on Drug Shortages to respond to the need for the mitigation of drug shortages. We trust that processes can be put in place and supported by key players to allow Canada to respond in a coordinated, transparent and accountable fashion to future or actual drug shortages.
Drug Shortages represent an ongoing worry for physicians. The impact on patients, health professionals and the health care system can be significant. Substantial progress has been made since 2011 in terms of gathering and sharing drug shortage information and improving our understanding of the drug supply processes but much still remains to be done. Although complex and challenging, ongoing attention to the issue is required to ensure that Canadians can count on a secure supply of medication into the future.
The CMA will continue to represent the best interests of patients and physicians to ensure that Canada's health care system delivers on patient-centered care.
1 DRUG SHORTAGES FDA's Ability to Respond Should be Strengthened, Statement of Marcie Cross, Director, Health Care, United States Government Accountability Office, Testimony before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, U.S. Senate, December 15, 2011.
2 FDA is asking the public to send in ideas for combatting drug shortages, FDA Voice, Feb. 13, 2013, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, available at http://blogs.fda.gov/fdavoice/index.php/tag/drug-shortages/ (accessed 2013 April 2).
3 Canadian Drug Shortages Database available at http://www.drugshortages.ca/drugshortages.asp (accessed 2013 April 5).
4 Drug Supply In Canada: A Multi-stakeholder Responsibility, Report of the Standing Committee on Health, 41st Parliament, First session, June 2012.
5 Drug Supply Disruptions, Environmental Scan, Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, Issue 17, March 2011.
6 Canadian Drug Shortages Database available at http://www.drugshortages.ca/drugshortages.asp (accessed 2013April 5).
7 Drug Supply In Canada: A Multi-stakeholder Responsibility, Report of the Standing Committee on Health, 41st Parliament, First session, June 2012.
8 Prescription Drug Shortages, E Panel Survey, Canadian Medical Association, December 2010.
9 Drug Shortages, Recommendations of the Working Group on Drug Shortages, Ordre des Pharmaciens du Québec, March 2012.
10 Impact of Drug Shortages, Member survey, Canadian Pharmacists Association, October 2012.
11 BACKGROUNDER - DRUG SHORTAGES SURVEY, Canadian Pharmacists Association, Canadian Society of Hospital Pharmacists, Canadian Medical Association, January 2013, available at http://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Media_Release/2013/Backgrounder-Drug-shortages_en.pdf ( assessed 2013 April 2).
The Canadian Medical Association appreciates this opportunity to respond to Health Canada's public consultation on the proposed regulatory approach for the proposed Cannabis Act, Bill C-45.
Our approach to cannabis is grounded in broad public health policy. It includes promotion of health and prevention of drug dependence and addiction; access to assessment, counselling and treatment services; and a harm reduction perspective. The CMA endorsed the Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines1 and has expressed these views in our recommendations to the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation,2 recommendations regarding Bill C-453 and submission on the cannabis excise duty framework.4
Therefore, we are limiting our response to those consultation questions that pertain to that approach and relate to our expertise and knowledge base. We are providing responses to questions 9, 10 and 11.
Packaging and labelling
9. What do you think about the proposed rules for the packaging and labelling of cannabis products? Do you think additional information should be provided on the label?
The CMA concurs with the proposed regulations. Packaging and labelling of cannabis products should include measures such as:
a requirement for plain and standard packaging,5 6
prohibition of the use of appealing flavours and shapes,
a requirement for adequate content and potency labelling,
a requirement for comprehensive health warnings,
a requirement for childproof packaging, and
a requirement that the content in a package should not be sufficient to cause an overdose.
Education is required to develop awareness among Canadians of the health, social and economic harms of cannabis use especially in young people. In that regard, the regulations with respect to packaging and labelling should be viewed as an opportunity to maximize educational opportunities. Package inserts must outline and reinforce the health risks involved; they must also be designed by governments and health professionals, not cannabis producers or distributors.
Package inserts should include:
information on securing the product in the home to prevent access by youth and children,
recommendations not to drive or to work with hazardous chemicals or operate equipment while using the contents of the package,
information on the health and social consequences (including legal penalties) of providing cannabis to those under a designated minimum age for purchasing, and
contact information for hotlines for poison control and for crisis support.
In addition, the regulations for the marketing and advertising of cannabis should use an approach similar to those in place for tobacco and cigarettes.7 8 9
Cannabis for medicinal purposes
10. What do you think about the proposed approach to providing cannabis for medical purposes? Do you think there should be any specific additional changes?
CMA maintains its position that there should be one system with one set of regulations for medical and recreational cannabis.
The CMA believes that once the Act and regulations are in force, there will be no need for two systems. Cannabis will be available for those who wish to use it for medicinal purposes, either with or without medical authorization, and for those who wish to use it for other purposes. The medical profession does not need to authorize use once cannabis is legalized, especially given that cannabis has not undergone Health Canada's usual pharmaceutical regulatory approval process, and its anticipated removal as a controlled substance from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Those who have experienced a two-system approach in Washington and Colorado have remarked on the challenges of having dual standards and regulations (e.g., purchase and possession quantities, taxation levelsa 4) and the contribution to the grey market.b 11
Consistent with the advice it received from the Task Force on Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis,12 the government intends on pursuing both a medicinal and retail cannabis system at this time. In this instance the CMA supports regulations for each system being as similar as possible. Furthermore, the CMA strongly supports the need for appropriate and relevant data collection (e.g., interaction of individuals between the medicinal and retail systems) to provide the necessary evidence for the future legislative review, anticipated in three years' time. The CMA would expect to be involved and looks forward to participating in the criteria development, evaluation and performance review of the systems.
Sale of health products containing cannabis
11. What do you think about the proposed restrictions on the sale of health products containing cannabis authorized by Health Canada? Do they strike an appropriate balance between facilitating access to safe, effective and high quality health products, and deterring illegal activities and youth access?
Health products include prescription health products, non-prescription drugs, natural health products, cosmetics and medical devices. Although all these products are regulated by Health Canada, they undergo different levels of scrutiny for safety, efficacy and quality, and in some cases industry does not need to provide scientific evidence to support the claims made on the label. The level of proof required to obtain a Drug Identification Number (DIN) for prescription drugs is considerably higher than the level of proof required for a Natural Product Number (NPN); rigorous scientific evidence is needed for a DIN but not for a NPN. Consumers generally do not know about this distinction, believing that Health Canada has applied the same level of scrutiny to the health claims made for every product. As a result, consumers presently do not have sufficient information to choose appropriate products.
Health Canada launched a consultation in 201613 on the approval process of the categories of non-prescription drugs, natural health products and cosmetics ("self-care products") with the intent of modernizing the present regulations. The CMA fully supports this work and hopes it will be brought to a timely conclusion.14
With respect to all health products, the CMA supports a risk-based approach in which higher risk products, for example, those for which health claims are made, must meet a higher standard of review. Rigorous scientific evidence is needed to support claims of health benefits and to identify potential risks and adverse reactions.
All health products containing cannabis must meet a high standard of review for safety, efficacy and quality, equivalent to that of the approval of prescription drugs (e.g., Marinol(r) and Sativex(r)), to protect Canadians from further misleading claims. Prescription drugs are subject to Health Canada's pharmaceutical regulatory approval process, based on each drug's specific indication, dose, route of administration and target population. Health claims need to be substantiated via a strong evidentiary process.
With respect to the sale of cannabis products to youth, the CMA recommends the adoption of strict controls as outlined in the proposed regulations; as per the proposal, "All health products would be subject to provisions that control against practices that may appeal to youth, or the use of testimonials, real or fictional characters or animals, or lifestyle branding. Tamper-evident and child-resistant packaging requirements would also apply."15 We also support the additional precautions around medical devices, especially those sold to young persons.
The CMA urges caution around the exemption for paediatric formulations that would allow for traits that would "appeal to youth." The CMA understands that these products, used under strict health professional supervision, should be child friendly, for example, regarding palatability, but we do not support marketing strategies that would suggest their use is recreational (e.g., producing them in candy or animal formats).
There will be a need for careful monitoring of the health products released in the market and the health claims made. Experience has shown that regulations can and will be circumvented, and these activities will have to be addressed. Various examples have been reported in the media highlighting the need to be vigilant, as illustrated in Switzerland regarding health and other products with cannabis and high cannabidiol content.16 17
a The CMA supports similar taxation treatment of cannabis products for medical and non-medical purposes.
b Grey market refers to products produced or distributed in ways that are unauthorized or unregulated, but not strictly illegal.
1 Fischer B, Russell C, Sabioni P, et al. Lower-risk cannabis use guidelines: A comprehensive update of evidence and recommendations. AJPH 2017 Aug;107(8):e1-e12. Available: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2017.303818?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed& (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
2 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Legalization, regulation and restriction of access to marijuana. CMA submission to the Government of Canada - Task Force on cannabis, legalization and regulation. Ottawa: The Association; 2016 Aug 29. Available: www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/submissions/2016-aug-29-cma-submission-legalization-and-regulation-of-marijuana-e.pdf (accessed 2017 Jul 27).
3 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Bill C-45: The Cannabis Act. Submission to the House of Commons Health Committee. Ottawa: The Association; 2017 Aug 18. Available: http://www.cma.corp/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-09.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
4 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Excise duty framework for cannabis products. Submission to the Government of Canada consultation on the proposed excise duty framework for cannabis products. Ottawa: The Association; 2017 Dec 7. Available: http://www.cma.corp/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2018-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
5 Vardavas C, Filippidis F, Ward B, et al. Plain packaging of tobacco products in the European Union: an EU success story? European Respiratory Journal 2017;50:1701232 Available: http://erj.ersjournals.com/content/erj/50/5/1701232.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
6 Torjesen I. Standardised packs cut adult smoking as well as discouraging young people, evidence indicates BMJ 2015;350:h935. Available: http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h935 (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
7 Hughes N, Arora M, Grills N. Perceptions and impact of plain packaging of tobacco products in low and middle income countries, middle to upper income countries and low-income settings in high-income countries: a systematic review of the literature. BMJ Open 2016;6:e010391. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010391. Available: http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/bmjopen/6/3/e010391.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
8 White V, Williams T, Wakefield M. Has the introduction of plain packaging with larger graphic health warnings changed adolescents' perceptions of cigarette packs and brands? Tob Control 2015;24:ii42-ii49. Available: http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/tobaccocontrol/24/Suppl_2/ii42.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
9 Smith C, Kraemer J, Johnson A, Mays D. Plain packaging of cigarettes: do we have sufficient evidence? Risk Management and Healthcare Policy 2015;8:21-30. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4396458/pdf/rmhp-8-021.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
10 Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA). Cannabis regulation: Lessons learned in Colorado and Washington State. Ottawa: CCSA; 2015 Nov. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Cannabis-Regulation-Lessons-Learned-Report-2015-en.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 18).
11 Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation. A framework for the legalization and regulation of cannabis in Canada: final report. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2016. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/healthy-canadians/migration/task-force-marijuana-groupe-etude/framework-cadre/alt/framework-cadre-eng.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 18).
12 Government of Canada. Consultation on the regulation of self-care products. Ottawa: Government of Canada; n/d. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-regulation-self-care-products.html (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
13 Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Regulation of self-care products in Canada. Ottawa: The Association; 2016. Available: http://www.cma.corp/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-11.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
14 Health Canada. Proposed approach to the regulation of cannabis [consultation]). Ottawa: Health Canada; 2017 Nov. Available: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/documents/programs/consultation-proposed-approach-regulation-cannabis/proposed-approach-regulation-cannabis.pdf (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
15 Knodt M. In Switzerland, high-CBD cannabis being sold legally as 'Tobacco Substitute'. Seattle: Leafly; 2018. Available: https://www.leafly.com/news/politics/switzerland-high-cbd-cannabis-sold-legally-tobacco-substitute (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
16 Wiley C. Could a legal quirk bring cannabis tourism to Switzerland? The Telegraph 2017 Jul 28;Travel Section. Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/switzerland/articles/cannabis-tourism-has-arrived-in-switzerland/ (accessed 2018 Jan 17).
The Canadian Medical Association recommends that conflict-of-interest issues be considered when any scope-of-practice expansion that allows allied health professionals to both prescribe and dispense medication is considered.
The Canadian Medical Association recommends that conflict-of-interest issues be considered when any scope-of-practice expansion that allows allied health professionals to both prescribe and dispense medication is considered.
The Canadian Medical Association recommends that conflict-of-interest issues be considered when any scope-of-practice expansion that allows allied health professionals to both prescribe and dispense medication is considered.
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.