Taranaki woman fights for pain relief without nasty side effects

SIMON O’CONNOR/STUFF Peter and Helen Old at their home in Taranaki.

It is ridiculous that New Zealand patients needing pain relief, nausea relief and a reduction in seizures are still having to fight for access to a drug that does not come with serious side effects. We commonly prescribe powerful drugs medically that are addictive and have serious nasty side effects yet marijuana is still not a legal medical drug in New Zealand.

Helen Old, and her husband, Peter, have been trying for the past year to get medicinal cannabis to help Helen deal with the pain caused by MS.

[…] Helen Old found out this week that she had got the green light to source MC from Canada after a lengthy fight to get her application before the Ministry of Health.

While the 56-year-old mother of one’s mind remains sharp, more than 30 years of struggling with the disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord has left her paralysed from the neck down, with impaired speech and vision.

[…] Her husband Peter, who has been beside her all the way, said the decision was fantastic news – although the couple now face another fight to bring the drug into the country.

“It has been 12 months to get it approved and it has been a long bloody journey.”

Peter said it had been an arduous process, with mountains of paper work to complete, which was made more difficult because medical professionals were divided on the benefits of MC and it was the first time someone had been granted approval to use different varieties to treat the pain.

Meanwhile, Helen is forced to suffer from “a wide range of unwanted side effects” while on a cocktail of legal drugs. Unsurprisingly she and her husband trialled the cannabis illegally before embarking on the long and difficult attempt to get access to it legally.

[…] “Within two days her bladder stopped spasming and she was able to have pain relief without side effects.”

They experimented with different strengths to work out what would help Helen the most.

“We were able to do all these things ourselves and then sit back and say ‘bloody hell, this really does work’, the results were amazing.”

Peter said they needed to know if the products would benefit Helen’s quality of life before taking the next step.

“We needed to try it first otherwise we were wasting our time.

[…] He said watching his wife’s condition deteriorate over the years had been soul-destroying.

“It’s the most unpleasant thing you could ever have to watch. I’ve seen her go from being a vibrant, beautiful, fabulous person to ending up in a wheelchair.

“It’s like cancer, a person with cancer and you know they are going to die and there’s not much you can do about it, you feel totally bloody useless.”

While the couple, who have been supported by Shane Le Brun of the Medicinal Cannabis Association, had won the battle they had not yet won the war, Peter said.

They were now working towards getting approval to import the products into New Zealand, at their own cost.

“Now we have to deal with with the government departments to bring it in, for instance customs and police. We’ve got to get an import licence from the Ministry for Primary Industries.”

The couple were also grateful for the assistance of Taranaki District Health Board pain specialist Yvonne Murray who had helped them with their application.

“Without her input I’m not sure if we would have got where we are today.”

[…] He said he hoped the ordeal he and Helen had been through would help open doors for the use of MC and maybe even lead to it being funded by the government.

“The process should’ve taken three months maximum, it shouldn’t have taken any longer than than that. Helen is not a special case, she is badly disabled, she is in severe pain and this process shouldn’t have been dragged out.

“People like Helen are trailblazers. In ten years’ time medicinal cannabis will be readily available. You will go to your GP, he will write you a prescription, you will take it somewhere and you will get the medicinal cannabis you need.”

[…] He said the Australian government was growing its own cannabis and planned to process it and make it available to the public within 12 months.

“In New Zealand we’ve got the best growing conditions in the world, this is what I’ve been told. Why the hell aren’t they growing it under licence and processing it here for people like Helen? The government would make money out of it, it would be self funding.”

Peter said the couple hoped to receive their first shipment of MC by January and they believed Helen, who used to take eight different medications a day but has dropped to six thanks to the illegal trial she is involved in, would then be able to further reduce the amount.

“We think, once she starts on the medicinal cannabis four of those medications could be dropped, two have gone already and there could well be another two more.

“The saving alone for that per month would be the equivalent of getting the medicinal cannabis.”

– Stuff


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