Patients in Ireland will now be able to get medical cannabis on prescription for the first time in what has been described as a “milestone” expected to bring hope to many families, although there are still barriers to access to medical cannabis.
While some medical cannabis products were legalized in the country a few years ago, this landmark decision now means patients can not only get medical cannabis on prescription, but can also be reimbursed for it.
The move provides patients with “reassurance” that their care will be guaranteed and “placed on an appropriate legal basis,” left MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan told EURACTIV, adding that it had previously caused patients suffering.
According to Eugene “Gino” Kenny, Member of Parliament for the Dublin Mid-West constituency and longtime campaigner on the issue, this is absolutely critical as this treatment is sometimes “prohibitively expensive” for people.
“This is a milestone for Ireland,” he told EURACTIV, adding that there is hope for many “desperate families”, some of whom are turning to other markets, including the black market, to secure treatment for their children Suffer from conditions such as epilepsy.
After 5 years and a long and arduous campaign, those with a qualifying condition under the MCAP will be able to obtain medical cannabis by prescription for the first time. This will be a medical milestone in Ireland and hopefully lead to better access for all.
– Gino Kenny TD (@Ginosocialist) June 16, 2021
However, he remains optimistic about the possibilities for patients, but a number of barriers to entry remain.
Kenny explained that the medical cannabis access program is currently far too restrictive as it is only open to patients with a limited number of medical conditions.
Most controversial is that the program does not yet include those suffering from chronic pain, he said, calling on the Irish government to expand the range to include these and a wider range of neurological conditions.
This despite the fact that these conditions are included in other EU programs, for example in the Netherlands.
Flanagan also pointed out that, unlike Germany, Irish patients have to have the drug prescribed by a specialist, which is cumbersome and leads to “unnecessary costs”.
Even so, Kenny remained confident that this would “expand rapidly” in the years to come, indicating a number of significant investments in the sector.
“Where the money goes, the market will follow,” he emphasized.
Medical cannabis requires “equality”
Another problem is that the program provides that all other treatment pathways must be investigated before medical cannabis is pursued.
But that’s not the right approach, according to Flanagan.
“There is concern that patients can only use products approved under the program when conventional treatments fail,” he said, stressing that patients “should be offered cannabis-based treatments on an equal footing with other medicines.”
Likewise, Kenny stressed that medical cannabis should not be viewed as a last resort, but rather as one of the tools in the treatment toolbox.
“If it has been shown to be effective, why not offer it alongside other treatment options?” He asked, adding that more research is needed to ensure that all decisions are evidence-based.
Winds of Change
However, the MP remained confident that this would be a catalyst for further changes in this area.
“This will get the ball rolling for access to medical cannabis,” said Kenny.
While the use of medicinal cannabis remains controversial and misunderstood, he said the dynamic is changing “dramatically”.
Citing a recent survey in Ireland that found 92% of respondents in favor of medical cannabis legalization, Kenny stressed that attitudes in medicine, politics and civil society are changing.
“While many health professionals have been and are skeptical, we have seen a shift in the debate in recent years as the benefits of this treatment have become more apparent,” he said, adding that for many children with epilepsy and other conditions, this treatment may ” transformational ”.
Therefore, he predicts that in a few years’ time the mindset will be a completely different picture not just in the EU, but around the world.
However, according to Flanagan, this remains an uphill battle.
“All countries in the EU can learn a lot from the US in this regard,” he said, pointing out that the drug is far more accessible and approved for use in a far wider range of diseases.
“We have to get to this point sooner rather than later. Especially for patients with chronic pain, ”he demanded.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]