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Home > Deputy Joe Costello: The issue I raise concerns patients receiving the best medical treatment that is available, arising out of research, on controlled drugs and drugs that are not subject to regulation. In reply to a parliamentary question from me

[Oireachtas] Deputy Joe Costello: The issue I raise concerns patients receiving the best medical treatment that is available, arising out of research, on controlled drugs and drugs that are not subject to regulation. In reply to a parliamentary question from me. (01 May 2008)

External website: http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2008/05/01/00022...


Deputy Joe Costello:   The issue I raise concerns patients receiving the best medical treatment that is available, arising out of research, on controlled drugs and drugs that are not subject to regulation. In reply to a parliamentary question from me on 17 April the Minister said:

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and regulations made thereunder regulate and control the import, export, production, supply and possession of a range of . . . substances . . . where there is evidence that the substances are causing significant harm to public health in Ireland.

The current legal position in Ireland in relation to cannabis is that it is a scheduled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and its sale, supply, distribution and possession is unlawful except for the purpose of research. My Department is aware that claims have been made in respect of cannabis and its possible benefits for patients suffering from certain conditions such as multiple sclerosis and glaucoma. As the law currently stands, however, cannabis is not licensed here for medicinal use. I am aware of the case referred to by the Deputy...

While certain controlled substances are available to pharmacists as the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and practitioners indicate, it is not legal for them to prescribe them. Pharmacies can have them on their premises for the purposes of the profession or business, nevertheless neither pharmacists nor medical practitioners can prescribe them. Therefore, it is difficult to see what is their purpose. The law only allows them to be used for research. What happens when that research is completed? Has any research taken place and, if so, what are the findings of that research? What have the medical practitioners and pharmacists, who are licensed to operate under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, done with the research they have produced?

There are a number of Irish citizens abroad who are ill with various diseases, for example, multiple sclerosis. They have been prescribed a certain controlled drug in other countries — it is legal to prescribe these drugs in many European countries and in a number of states in the US. Yet there is no way these citizens of Ireland can continue that prescription in Ireland. Effectively, in a number of cases, these people are prohibited from dwelling in Ireland if they are to receive what is considered to be the best medial treatment for them. That is the crux of the situation.

If there is an existing controlled drug that is an integral part of medical treatment, it is time Ireland looked at that. For example, morphine is opiate based. There has been no problem with prescribing morphine for seriously ill patients. Morphine is an opiate and is produced from opium. It was not considered to be a serious problem until such time as heroin ravaged this country in the late 1970s. Morphine would not be allowed to be used in any form in medical treatment had we known about the devastation heroin would cause over the past 30 years. Are we afraid to examine the medical properties of certain controlled drugs at this time just because drugs in general have a bad name?

On 17 April 2008, in the US Congress, legislation was introduced to provide for the medical use of marijuana in accordance with the laws of the various states. That arose out of the American Association of Pharmacists coming to a conclusion that because of its proven efficacy at treating certain symptoms and its relatively low toxicity patients should have access to this type of treatment.

I want to tease out the issue. Essentially the matter came to my attention because a particular Irish citizen who has a serious medical illness applied on more than one occasion to return to Ireland and visit his home, from which he has been absent for some time, but because part of his treatment comes from controlled substances that are not available for medical treatment here, he is unable to visit his native country. I ask the Minister of State to indicate whether Irish research findings support the conclusions of international research which indicate that specific controlled substances offer considerable health benefits.

Deputy Michael P. Kitt:  I am taking this Adjournment debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. I thank Deputy for raising the matter, which I understand refers to the availability of medicinal cannabis for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and regulations made thereunder regulate and control the import, export, production, supply and possession of a range of named narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Substances are scheduled under the Act in accordance with Ireland’s obligations under international conventions or where there is evidence that the substances are causing significant harm to public health in Ireland.

Cannabis is a Schedule 1 controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act. This means that its sale, supply, distribution and possession is unlawful except for the purpose of research. All Schedule 1 substances are substances which are considered as having no medicinal use and, accordingly, cannabis cannot be prescribed or dispensed in Ireland for medicinal use.

The Department of Health and Children is aware that claims have been made in respect of cannabis and its possible benefits for patients suffering from certain conditions such as multiple sclerosis and glaucoma. However, as the law currently stands, it is not possible for a cannabis extract to be licensed in Ireland for medicinal use or for a general practitioner to prescribe it. No exemptions or exceptions are applicable and the Minister for Health and Children does not intend to change the law in this regard.

The Department of Health and Children and Health Service Executive are participating in the steering group on the development of the National Drugs Strategy 2009 to 2016 established by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. This will involve a review of the operation of current drug treatment services and development of services in the future. The Department of Health and Children will this year review and update the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 to 2006 to consider modernising this legislation and the regulation of controlled drugs in general. I thank the Deputy again for raising this issue.

Vol. 653 No. 4
Adjournment Debate
Thursday, 1 May 2008

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