by Joel Wiebe, (Source:Peterborough This Week)
26 Nov 2010
Medicinal marijuana recipients deal with far more than the chronic conditions that led to their unorthodox prescriptions
( PETERBOROUGH ) Paul Falkner lights a joint and considerately blows the smoke toward an open window.
He's not a drug addict or teenager looking for a fun time: he's a middle-age man taking the only medicine that allows him to get out of bed and function like a regular person.
He still has a piece of titanium in his back -- a large section of a surgical screw that broke when it was supposed to be holding his spine.
"I've got the scar on my back to prove it," he states.
Since 1997, chronic pain has been a constant companion. Mr. Falkner has taken numerous, more mainstream, prescription drugs and he says taking marijuana is helping him avoid becoming a drug addict. Not only can prescription narcotics be addicting, but he says to get to the point that the pain is faded enough to function it left him mentally incapable of doing so. As he gets older the required doses would also need to grow.
"It lets people live a semi-normal life," he says of marijuana.
The problem is, getting a licence to use medicinal marijuana is time-consuming and frustrating. Then, once you get the licence, there are social concerns and it will have to be renewed annually.
Mr. Falkner is one of many people locally who have to fight for months with Health Canada to get licensed.
Five months and 27 days after filing his paperwork, following many phone calls and help from MP Dean Del Mastro, an Xpresspost envelope arrived with his paperwork, though it was still missing his actual licence card.
"It's still not fully complete," he points out.
Come Christmas, he'll be looking to file his papers for a renewal because he knows he'll probably wait another half a year to get it.
Mr. Falkner's story is one of many similar situations Vycki Fleming sees.
A so-called 'good girl,' she says she steered away from drugs and alcohol throughout her younger years. She's well-educated and once worked a high-paying job. Then came the chronic pain the and slew of prescriptions that followed. It took her eight years and 23 doctors to get a marijuana prescription. At first, she was embarrassed to take it. She tried to hide it from family, but going without medication while interacting with them proved too painful.
She jokingly talks about finding a trash-talking 12-year-old who would sell her what she was legally entitled to, an awkward and humiliating process for someone who's never sought out drugs before.
Since then, she's become a patient advocate. Having a brain injury and trying to get a job is tough, but finding an employer who will let you medicate regularly makes it a whole lot tougher. To fill that need to keep busy, she volunteers to help people through the process, getting them appointments with doctors who will prescribe it, dealing with Health Canada's procedures and paperwork, and even explaining to others who have never touched a joint that there are many ways to take it.
Ms Fleming's favourite is peanut butter cookies, but she knows how to make the most of every part of the plant, from making butter to rolling a joint.
She gets emotional when talking about the social stigmas she faces regularly. Her friends slowly stopped inviting her out to the bar since she tends to get hassled if she smells like marijuana. When she steps outside to light up, she says people will sarcastically say: "I assume that's medicinal," leaving her feeling labelled as an addict.
"There's never going to be a day in my future when I don't feel pain," she tearfully says of a concept that took her 11 years to come to terms with.
Taking marijuana doesn't get rid of pain, but she says it turns it into background noise, dropping it from about an eight out of 10 to a two.
Many of her clients have never tried marijuana until chronic pain set in, bucking the pot-head stereotype she says they face. They come from all walks of life, including community leaders like store owners, lawyers, and veterans.
There are some who get their medication to get high, but she points out, who can judge their pain and say it's wrong for them to get high.
More common medications are used for people to get high as well and she says marijuana doesn't have many of the bad side effects of other drugs.
"You don't have to like what I do, you don't have to morally agree," she states, noting cannabis doesn't get her high anymore.
A Conservative party member, MP Del Mastro has no problem helping people process a legal application for medicinal marijuana.
"This is a prescription from a medical doctor," he states, adding it's no different from percocets in that they too can be abused on the streets. "This is in fact a controlled, licensed use of a drug for treatment."
He says the federal government takes processing the applications seriously and precautions need to be taken, but he says there may be ways to speed up the wait times.
He blames an increase in applications for the backlog, speculating it may be due to more awareness about medicinal marijuana. He says there should be a system for people waiting on renewal papers, technically not legal to use it, to be safe from police action until their application is either approved or denied and anyone arrested may get assistance from his office.
While he may support legal use of marijuana, he's not a proponent of legalizing it all together. MP Del Mastro worries that it would lead to more, less detectable, impaired driving and lead to more drug use among youth. Harm, he says, is not just physical, but can affect family, friends, and a person's potential to achieve things in life.
Gary Holub, media relations officer with Health Canada, says they are making changes to speed up the process, but the number of applications continues to increase.
"Health Canada is currently considering longer-term measures to reform the Marihuana Medical Access Program and its regulations," he writes in an e-mail.
The only drug he says also requires a license with Health Canada is Revlimid, used for cases of multiple myeloma treatment. Marijuana is not considered a therapeutic drug.
When asked what people should do when in limbo between getting a renewal and their old license expiring, he only warned that any possession or production of marijuana when not licensed is illegal and can lead to police action, adding questions on medical advice should be directed to a doctor.
The current policy for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario regarding medicinal marijuana is that doctor's don't need to prescribe it and should only do so with caution after conventional drugs have been tried. The eight-year-old policy is up for review in spring, but Senior Communications Co-ordinator Kathryn Clarke says the schedule is flexible and policy may not be reviewed at that time.
When e-health arrives, she says it may have a better tracking method for the drug and she says more studies are need on the adverse affects of it.
Outright legalization aside, Mr. Falkner says the whole system needs to be revamped. With Health Canada backlogged for months, he says people suffer and die while waiting for their medication.
MAP posted-by: Matt
Pubdate: Fri, 26 Nov 2010
Source: Peterborough This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Joel Wiebe