Dilemma facing patients - a personal account

The woman was determined to alleviate her father’s suffering but the bureaucratic process and huge costs meant getting the medical treatment containing cannabis had to be shelved.

Kurt Sansone

Philip* suffered from multiple sclerosis and, as his condition worsened, medication did little to relieve his severe muscle spasms.

His legs would stiffen causing immobility, pain and discomfort that left family members powerless as prescribed medicines lost their impact.

It was at this juncture that Philip’s daughter, Joanne*, became aware of medical treatment containing cannabis that had long been used abroad to treat muscle spasticity in MS patients.

But when she asked for Sativex, an oral spray containing cannabis, she was told the medicine was not available in Malta.

No company had ever sought market authorisation – a mandatory process – to import and sell Sativex on the island.

When Joanne found out that the pharmaceutical company that produced Sativex did not have a Maltese agent, she contacted the manufacturer directly. But, to her disappointment, the company had no intention to seek market authorisation in Malta.

Not all doors were closed, though. Joanne could still seek special permission to buy the medicine from the UK and bring it over herself.

Her father’s neurologist prepared a prescription, the Customs Department was informed and a British doctor was found to issue a prescription that was valid in that country.

Joanne would have to travel constantly to the UK to collect the prescription and buy the medicine, informing Customs of the medicine’s dosage and date of travel.

It was a long-winded, bureaucratic process involving countless e-mail exchanges but Joanne’s determination to alleviate her father’s suffering kept her going.

However, the process came to an abrupt end when the family started counting the cost of buying the medicine and paying for the regular flights.

A painful question lingered in her head. Should she do this once and then stop her father’s treatment because it became unaffordable? After discussing the matter with her mother, the decision was taken to abandon the plan.

“It was hard to believe treatment existed that could alleviate my father’s suffering, which we could not afford… it would have been cruel to start the treatment and stop it soon after,” she said.

Joanne’s story is not unique.

She knew of MS sufferers who overcame the money problem by buying cannabis resin illegally and including it in food. It was something that also crossed her mind.

But Joanne and her mother never managed to go that far… Philip passed away last year after a 20-year battle with pain.

* Names have been changed to protect the family’s identity.

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