Medicinal cannabis products 'sitting in warehouses', Senate committee told amid concerns about access

Fewer than 150 people in Australia have ever been given approved access to medicinal cannabis products and there are only 25 authorised prescribers of the drugs, according to evidence at a Senate estimates committee.

Officials from the Health Department told the hearing that figure had only increased by two since February, and most of those doctors were in New South Wales.

"We now have 25, it would have been good to have a greater increase but we are responsive to what applications we receive from ethics committees, so we can't write these things ourselves," said the department's deputy secretary in charge of drug regulation, adjunct Professor John Skerritt.

Patients can access medicinal cannabis products either through a special access scheme, or from an authorised prescriber.

The committee was told that since the first application in 1992, a total of 89 patients had been given access to a small number of medicinal cannabis products through the special access scheme, and another 41 were issued prescriptions by an authorised doctor.

'There's product sitting in warehouses'

In late 2016, theĀ Therapeutic Goods Administration made cannabis a controlled, rather than prohibited, substance for medical purposes, and the Federal Government has legalised the cultivation of the drug in Australia.

But at the same time, it removed the ability of doctors to prescribe terminally ill patients some previously approved products without the need to seek prior authorisation, under what is known as Category A of the special access scheme.

Patients now have to use Category B of the scheme, which requires prior approval.

Greens Leader Richard Di Natale said that meant there was no longer quick access to two specific cannabis-based drugs.

"So it's fair to say that it's now harder to access medicinal cannabis or related products than it was prior to this legislation, through Category A," he said.

But Professor Skerritt said the Government was speeding up approvals under Category B.

"I think there's a clear pathway for patients to be able to access the product; there's product sitting in warehouses in major capital cities of Australia, and the Commonwealth is taking two days in its approvals," he said.

He said patients who were struggling to access cannabis products needed to ask their doctor to apply through the special access scheme.

"There are supplies of the cannabinodal-rich medicines sitting in Australia, sufficient to treat many hundreds if not thousands of children, so they basically have to go through the process," he sad.

"I often muse that the time spent in complaining about a process, when it is a one-page form with some attachments for applying for access, you'd get the access much faster that way."

Professor Skerritt told the committee the Health Department was working with clinical colleges and other medical groups to increase knowledge about medicinal cannabis, but said it was not the Government's role to advocate for their use.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-30/medicinal-cannabis-access-fewer-than-150-people-senate-estimates/8571176

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