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Rise in Opiate Deaths means we need Medical Marijuana now more so than ever before

on Sep 14, 2018

new report released by the Penington Institute this week shows that opioid-related deaths have risen yet again, with accidental overdoses from prescription sleeping and anxiety pills more than doubling in the last decade. 

Overdose Numbers on the Rise...again


While illegal substances like heroine and crystal meth have also been included in the report, a significant number of deaths have been caused by highly potent and addictive prescription drugs like pharmaceutical opioids and benzodiazepines.  

Since news of the report broke this week, medical cannabis activists have made a greater push for patients to access medical cannabis on a larger scale.  

Pharmaceutical opioids are often prescribed for sleeping disorders, mood disorders, and for chronic pain relief – all issues that medical cannabis also treats, among many others. Medicinal cannabis has also worked as an effective way to wean patients off high doses of opioids. 

Access to Medical Marijuana is necessary


Elisabetta Faenza, the CEO and co-founder of botanical medicine company Leafcann, has been working hard to bring medical cannabis products into the Australian market. Faenza recommends that controlled prescribed medicinal cannabis should be added to the Special Access Scheme for patients whose doctors consider them unsuitable for long-term synthetic opioid use, for fear of long-term opioid addiction.  Under the Special Access Scheme, arrangements are made on a case-by-case basis for certain patients to access “unapproved therapeutic goods” to treat their illness.  


One of the most bizarre factor in considering these statistics is that medical cannabis has been legal in Australia since 2016, yet for some reason it is still incredibly hard to access for most eligible patients. Out of 38,000 general practitioners across the country, currently only one is authorized to prescribe medical cannabis. In another survey conducted earlier this year of 604 GPs across the country, 61.5% had had patients enquire about medicinal cannabis.  


58% of GPs stated that they were in favour of prescribing medicinal cannabis to patients, however most felt that their knowledge of the drug’s medicinal properties were lacking – with fewer than one in ten knowing how to navigate the red tape around prescribing medical cannabis. Current protocol means that GPs who wish to prescribe the drug must get approval from a specialist and their state’s health or poisons body, from which they can apply for single patient access through the Special Access Scheme, or become an authorized prescriber for a class of patients.  


While some positive changes have been made – Minister for Health Greg Hunt made significant progress for patients in NSW to speed up assessment for the Special Access Scheme – most states have been frustratingly slow on the uptake of introducing medical cannabis into mainstream medical treatment.  

Time to ditch the Stigma


There is still a lot of stigma around prescribing cannabis for medical use, because so many people have no idea how medical cannabis works. If you are one of the lucky few who gets a prescription for medical cannabis use, you’re not likely to receive a note from your doctor telling you to smoke 2 joints a day – instead, you’ll receive a prescription for a certain genetic strain catered to treat your symptoms, which is administered through a metered dose like oil or a capsule. 

 
Despite the fact that medical marijuana is legal in Australia, many people are resorting to the black market for cannabis to treat medical conditions. In an interview with the 7.30 report, Ian McGregor, a psychopharmacologist with the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics at Sydney University has estimated that up to 100,000 people in Australia have resorted to self-medicating with illegal cannabis.  
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