Medicinal cannabis likely in New Zealand by 2016

zzz8Toni-Marie Matich’s eldest daughter suffers from intractable epilepsy – a seizure disorder that cannot be controlled with conventional medicine. It led the Hawkes Bay mother-of-five to found United in Compassion (UIC), which advocates for New Zealand-based research into the therapeutic effects of cannabis-based medicines. The paediatrician caring for her daughter just happens to be the Children’s Commissioner, Russell Wills.

And that’s led to the unlikely but powerful alliance of Wills and UIC, teaming up with NZ Drug Foundation, to campaign for broader access to medicinal cannabis. It’s raised the prospect that it could soon become as readily available as morphine.

For Wills, juggling both roles could be a political minefield, but he says its not an issue: as a doctor, he can see the daily impact of what these “devastating diseases do to children and their families”. He’s not short of stories of desperate and vulnerable families who have gone to “extraordinary lengths to obtain treatments at enormous cost and extreme risk that then aren’t effective”.

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“I think doctors are desperate,” he says, “to see patients have access to effective treatments.”

Research and random-control trials of cannabinoid products are underway in Israel and the United States and the results of those trials could be just months away – which could mean a New Zealand-approved product could be available by next year, once manufacturers have produced a product and passed MedSafe checks.

At that point Pharmac will negotiate a price with the manufacturers and Wills doesn’t see there being any delays because associate health minister Peter Dunne, the ministry, doctors and parents “are all on the same page”.

Unite In Compassion co-founder Toni-Marie Matich, who cares full time for her eldest daughter who suffers from intractable epilepsy.
Unite In Compassion co-founder Toni-Marie Matich, who cares full time for her eldest daughter who suffers from intractable epilepsy.

“Pharmac will be persuaded by evidence of effect and cost.”

Medicinal cannabis is a polarising issue but Wills says he hasn’t received any public backlash for his support of the treatment alternative.

“I think Toni and United in Compassion have been really responsible about how they’re working with the public servants and the minister to ensure that children with intractable epilepsy are included in research, if they can be, and have access to these medicines when they can.”

He said Dunne and the ministry were in a “dreadful bind” but despite the desperation of those involved they’d shown “extraordinary sophistication and integrity. Everyone is on the same side here, everyone wants access to safe medicines at a reasonable price as soon as we can.”



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