The Disability Support Program in Ontario, Canada is refusing to cover medical marijuana under the Ontario Drug Benefit Program. And the failure to provide coverage, according to the CBC, is forcing some patients to seek relief from chronic pain with powerful opiates instead. Injured workers covered by the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board have recently been denied reimbursement for medicinal cannabis costs, as well.
Bobby Assoun of Ottawa, Ontario is licensed to use medical marijuana to treat the chronic pain caused by multiple sclerosis. She had been paying for her medicine herself, but a recent financial hardship has made that impossible. Without access to medicinal cannabis, she will have to resume taking the powerful opioid hydromorphone instead.
“There’s only one thing that it will mean, which is that I’ll be going back and using my Dilaudid,” said Assoun, using a brand name for the prescription medication.
But when Assoun has used the drug in the past, fears of addiction led her to limit her use. But that also meant the medicine was less effective. She said that of all the options she’s tried cannabis provides her with the most relief.
“I look at all the medications I’ve taken over the years, and they don’t help like medical marijuana has done for me,” Assoun said. “I find that it would just be like a wave, and the pain would just go away.”
‘Opiates Out the Wazoo’
Other patients in the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) have had similar experiences. Shaun Gricken uses cannabis to treat anxiety. When several prescription medications didn’t work, he began using cannabis flower and CBD oil instead.
“Before it, I was pretty much literally a shut-in,” Gricken said.
Gricken said that he was shocked when he learned that the $350 per month he spent on the medicine would not be covered by the ODSP, although he was covered for alternatives that didn’t work for him.
“The fact that they’ll cover those and opiates out the wazoo, and not cover this, it’s ridiculous,” Gricken said.
Dr. Barbara Mainville treats patients using medicinal cannabis at the Canabo Medical Clinic. She wants more insurers and government benefit programs to start covering medical marijuana. She has seen injured people using cannabis medicinally successfully return to work. She also said that for some patients, cannabis works better and can be less expensive than alternatives that can have numerous side effects.
“Cannabis is so helpful for so many patients,” said Mainville. “It’s also cost-effective.”
She added that the opioid addiction epidemic is a clear indication that other remedies must be utilized.
“One of the principles I work on is ‘if what you’re doing isn’t working, you should do something else,'” Mainville said. “Opiates are killing people right, left and center, and I think that counts as not working.”
Cannabis Needs Approval Before Coverage
Although Canadians have been guaranteed the right to use medical marijuana by the country’s Supreme Court, regulators have not approved cannabis under the Food and Drugs Act. Until that happens, public insurance plans such as the Ontario Drug Benefit Program will not be able to cover medical marijuana, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health.