South Australian Doctors Battle To Prescribe Medicinal Cannabis

Medicinal cannabis prescription - South Australia
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It seems in the Australian state of South Australia, there’s not a single doctor with broad medical cannabis “approved prescriber” status as yet.

The reason behind this isn’t so much doctors not wanting to prescribe it, but having to jump through so many hoops to do so – and not having the information they require to make an informed medical decision.

An AdelaideNow report gives an example of a South Australian doctor approached by a cancer patient who was eager to acquire a legal prescription to obtain and use medicinal cannabis.

Tragically, the patient died before the doctor could complete the paperwork – a process the medical professional described as arduous.

Authorised medical practitioners have been able to legally prescribe medicinal cannabis products with State and Commonwealth approvals since November last year – and therein lies part of the problem; two different approvals.

The approvals currently required in South Australia are:

  • a section 18A authority granted under the South Australian Controlled Substances Act 1984 to prescribe a Schedule 8 drug.
  • approval from the Commonwealth TGA to supply an unregistered cannabis medicine.

This issue of complexity was apparently discussed at the most recent Council Of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council meeting last month; but the mention in a related communiqué was lumped in under “other items” without further detail.

In December last year, SA Health published a discussion paper: “Patient access to medicinal cannabis in South Australia” (PDF). Feedback on the questions posed in the discussion paper closed on 31 January and the formal patient access process is expected to be established “soon”.

It was only last month that the first doctor in state to gain authorisation to prescribe medical cannabis finally received approval from SA Health’s Drugs of Dependence Unit – and that was just in relation to a single patient.

At the time of publishing this article, forms specifically relating to cannabis didn’t appear to be available on the Unit’s site, so it’s difficult to get a sense of just how difficult the process is. However, it seems only three specialists have applied to SA Health so far.

In January, SA Greens MLC Tammy Franks urged Premier Weatherill to announce a compassionate amnesty on the use of medical cannabis while SA Health gets its act together. Even after that occurs, it still seems gaining access to cannabis medicines in South Australia will still be tough; an added stress that those who could benefit from it most simply don’t need.