A Christchurch amputee who has suffered for over 20 years from “phantom limb pain” says he will appeal a decision by ACC not to fund his request for medicinal cannabis.
Steven*, 50, has tried every avenue possible to reduce unrelenting and debilitating pain since he was in a motorbike crash 21 years ago.
His request for ACC to fund medicinal cannabis was turned down this week, despite approval from the Ministry of Health and recommendations from his GP and pain specialist.
“I’m gutted. I’ve tried so many medications – this seemed to be the last legal way of treating it. It’s a lifeline that has been taken away.”
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The part-time bar manager said he would appeal the decision as Sativex cost about $1200 a month, which he could not afford.
ACC said there was a lack of “high quality literature to show evidence of effectiveness in treating chronic pain” with Sativex, the only medicinal cannabis product available in New Zealand.
The Australian and New Zealand Faculty of Pain Medicine did not support the use of Sativex for treating chronic pain, an ACC spokesman said.
Steven had lived without the use of his left arm and hand since it was crushed in a crash in 1996.
He had the arm removed from the elbow when the ruptured nerves in his arm and spine failed to regrow.
Neuropathic pain – caused when the brain remembers and replays the last feeling in the area – has plagued him since.
He rated the constant stabbing pain and dull pressure in his non-existent fingers and thumb as a six to eight out of 10 on the pain scale.
“Breakthrough” pain struck up to 70 times a day and sent the pain rating off the charts for up to two minutes each time, Steven said.
“When it happens you sweat profusely, drop your head, close your eyes and try to get through it.”
He knew of other amputees who had committed suicide over the constant pain, but said his family kept him from taking the same path.
Strong medications, including opioids, anti-depressants and two types of sleeping pills give him little respite from the pain.
He would consider using cannabis illegally but it would put his job at risk.
Barrister and ACC patient advocate Warren Forster said Steven’s case met the legal basis for the entitlement.
Under the Accident Compensation Act, treatment including “pharmaceuticals prescribed by a treatment provider who has statutory authority to prescribe pharmaceuticals” must be funded.
“ACC’s view and the faculty’s view is irrelevant – it is applying a policy that is inconsistent with the law.”
An ACC spokesman said several requests had been made to ACC for medicinal cannabis and funding had been granted on a case-by-case basis.
ACC’s role was to consider whether medicinal cannabis was an appropriate and necessary treatment for a covered condition that would achieve a “rehabilitation outcome for the client”.
Faculty of Pain Medicine New Zealand chairman Professor Ted Shipton said the Government had responded to public demand for medicinal cannabis but there was a lack of research on its effectiveness.
Shipton supported a trial for Steven saying he thought it could “potentially be quite useful for nerve-type pain”.
”It’s end-of-the-line stuff [for him]. If I were the Minister [of Health] I would give him a trial and I think that’s the humane thing to do.”
Restrictions on a range of medicinal cannabis products were lifted by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne this month, allowing doctors to prescribe them in New Zealand.
Cost and accessibility would keep the products out of reach for many though, Shipton said.