Early this month, a South Australian doctor won approval from SA Health’s Drugs of Dependence Unit to prescribe medicinal cannabis to a patient suffering cancer.
The doctor is the first in the state to gain authorisation since medicinal cannabis was legalised nationally in November 2016.
Draft SA Government guidelines say authorised prescribers must be specialists – so the doctor is likely to be an oncologist, although the Government has not confirmed this, and declined to name the doctor and the patient for privacy reasons.
The doctor is among three who have so far applied to SA Health for authorisation to prescribe medicinal cannabis products. The department is seeking further information from the other two applicants.
Manufacturing and Innovation Minister Kyam Maher told InDaily the Government would soon be announcing a formal “patient access pathway” to set out the conditions for prescribing medicinal cannabis to South Australian patients. The pathway would give practical effect to the November legalisation.
“While patients in South Australia can already access medicinal cannabis as a result of federal legislative changes which came into effect in November, the State Government is working to make sure there is greater clarity and understanding of patient access pathways,” said Maher.
“After extensive formal consultation, the details of the pathway will be announced in the near future.
“The patient access pathway will better define criteria under which medical practitioners can seek permission to prescribe medicinal cannabis for patients.”
Australian Medical Association SA president Dr Janice Fletcher told InDaily she supported strong regulation for medicinal cannabis products, as with all drugs, to ensure patient safety.
She said the process described in SA Health’s discussion paper on patient access to medicinal cannabis for authorising doctors – who must be specialists – to prescribe the product was appropriate.
“What there needs to be is a robust process for authorisation,” said Fletcher.
“Without regulation … it’s open to abuses and patient harm.”
However she said more doctors needed to be authorised because “one prescriber is never going to be enough”.
At the beginning of this month, Therapeutic Goods Administration deputy secretary of health products regulation John Skerritt reportedly told a Senate estimates committee hearing that there were, then, 23 authorised prescribers of medicinal cannabis in Australia, including 21 in New South Wales and two in Queensland.
Greens MLC Tammy Franks told InDaily this morning that many South Australians suffering severe illnesses currently resort to buying cannabis products on the black market, and they needed to be shown a clear path to access the drug legally.
“You can’t call it patient access if patients can’t access it,” said Franks.
“There needs to be support for people to become authorised prescribers.
“I know that there are doctors who want to [prescribe medicinal cannabis] who are finding it a bureaucratic nightmare to get through the system.”
According to the SA Health discussion paper, “there is some clinical evidence for use of cannabis and derivatives in severe chronic conditions, and anecdotal reports of symptomatic benefit”.
It says there is clinical evidence for potential therapeutic benefits for patients suffering severe seizures because of treatment-resistant epilepsy, nausea and vomiting as a result of cancer or HIV/AIDS, severe muscle spasms or pain resulting from multiple sclerosis or for patients undergoing palliative care for terminal conditions.
However: “The available evidence supporting the efficacy of medicinal cannabis generally falls short of the standards required for approved medicines.”
“Further research and development is progressing into the safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis products, and to establish their role in clinical use,” the discussion paper reads.
In other cannabis news, the Legislative Council last night passed a Greens bill to legalise industrial hemp production in South Australia.
Both the Government and the Opposition supported the bill, which will next be debated in the House of Assembly.
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