Ontario-based Oriol Rhodes has over 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry, but it’s only recently that she has ventured into an uncharted territory: cannabis. “A year ago, I knew very little; particularly about substance use, and absolutely nothing about harm reduction, and how cannabis fits into this equation,” says Rhodes, a registered nurse.
The transition occurred as a result of a personal, not professional, reason. “I have a young son who’s now 19. My son was using street drugs, many of those drugs that he was using, he didn’t know at that time, were tainted with fentanyl. Even though I couldn’t stop him from taking drugs, I would drug test him on regular basis, and he tested positive for opioid and fentanyl, though declaring that he never touched them,” she says.
Fentanyl, an opioid pain reliever, is “20 to 40 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, which makes the risk of accidental overdose very high,” as reported by Government of Canada. It is odourless, tasteless and invisible to the naked eye.
“Canada’s illegal drug supply is being contaminated with illegal fentanyl and other fentanyl-like drugs (e.g. carfentanil). Fentanyl is a cheap way for drug dealers to make street drugs more powerful, and it is causing high rates of overdoses and overdose deaths,” said the report.
Prior to switching to medical cannabis, which he has been on for the past six weeks, the now-recovering adult spent six months in an intensive rehab program at Portage Elora Drug Addiction Rehabilitation Centre for Youth from Mar. to Sept. 2017.
Can medical cannabis be the solution?
From Jan. to June 2018, Health Canada reported there were 2,066 apparent opioid-related deaths; 94 percent of these were accidental. “The data also indicate that fentanyl and other fentanyl-related substances continue to be a major driver of this crisis,” Health Canada notes.
It’s when presented with personal stories like that of the Rhodes family and the stream of alarming data that the significance of Tetra Bio-Pharma’s (TBP) clinical trials is worth exploring.
Guy Chamberland, CEO and chief scientific officer at TBP.
TBP confirms the company is investigating its PPP001 drug—a smokable cannabis drug product in compressed pellet form produced at its facility in Moncton—as an alternative to the opioid fentanyl in the management of breakthrough cancer pain. The cannabis-based drugs being investigated will have a Drug Identification Number (DIN), which means these medications will be available at the pharmacy and will be covered by insurance.
“For me, at this point, the idea that cannabinoids have the potential to save the route to opioids alone is a significant contribution to medicine,” says Guy Chamberland, CEO and chief scientific officer at TBP, headquartered in Orleans, Ont. This is one of the five clinical trials—including investigational trials for advanced cancer pain, a head-to-head trial comparing cannabis to fentanyl in breakthrough cancer pain, fibromyalgia and chronic pain—being funded by TBP that have received a nod from Health Canada.
TBP is conducting a Health Canada authorized clinical trial to find the answer. Our PPP001 pharmaceutical drug comes in the form of a compressed pellet & is the 1st smokable dosage form approved for a clinical trial in the world. It is produced in Moncton.#Fentanyl
— Tetra Bio-Pharma (@TetraBioPharma) December 14, 2018
“Something needs to be done”: Making medicine attainable and affordable
Rhodes acknowledges that as a mother and a healthcare practitioner, she is keen and open to understanding research done by TBP. “It was on open social media that I connected with Chamberland and I made a comment about my son and his situation—at that point, my son was going through the first phases of the rehabilitation program,” says Rhodes.
The first conversation opened with Chamberland thinking the family would be dead-set against the use of medicinal cannabis. “And I said to him, quite frankly I am doing research and I am finding that I am more swayed towards the need for it than not. That’s what opened up our opportunity for conversing. He phoned me directly and we had a great conversation—he explained the type of research they were delving into at Tetra.”
Ontario-based healthcare practioner Oriol Rhodes.
Though using medical cannabis now, the cost of it, Rhodes admit,continues to be a challenge. “My son’s dosage is a gram a day. Even at gram a day, we are looking at $500 a month. Then you also need to look at purchasing a vaporizer, that adds to the cost as well,” she says.
But the family is hopeful that the TBP research will provide a much-needed breakthrough so that “we can rely on our insurance to help cover the cost—because I am sure the cost is quite prohibitive for a lot of people.” “Something needs to be done,” she emphasizes. “If we look at cannabis’ potential to replace opioid use—could you imagine the drop in substance abuse that it could eventually lead to?”