“Ontario injured workers shut out of medical pot coverage – told to take opioids instead” / John Lancaster (CBC News, Jul. 12, 2018)
A CBC Toronto investigation reveals the dilemma many injured workers face in Ontario when denied coverage for medical marijuana to treat chronic pain and other conditions resulting from work-related injury or disease. They can take the drug therapy, including prescribed but potentially addictive opioids and antidepressants, approved and paid for by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) – even if in their particular case these pharmaceuticals are proving ineffective or worsening their condition. However the Board frequently refuses entitlement to coverage for the medical marijuana which enables some injured workers to function better without suffering harmful side effects. Although the WSIB says it deals with such requests “on a case-by-case basis”, injured workers are all too often forced to pay for therapeutic marijuana out of their own pocket.
As the personal experience of injured workers Maurice Sagle and Robert Vachon illustrates, appealing WSIB denials to the Appeals Tribunal can be a costly and lengthy process, taking two years or more. The WSIB’s practice also, in the words of David Newberry, a community legal worker with IWC Community Legal Clinic, “creates two classes of workers. One where people who are able to access representation because they can afford a lawyer or because they qualify for legal aid are able to get the medicine that is right for them. And one where people can’t get a lawyer and can’t afford the medicine.”
The CBC news story includes the injured worker voice in the ongoing debate by the medical profession and policymakers regarding the role of medical marijuana – its health efficacy, costs and how it could offset overuse of opioids.