Tags: canada | lung | medication | denials

Doctors Slam Health Canada Over Lung Medication Denials

By    |   Tuesday, 11 June 2013 12:52 PM

Two lung disease specialists charge the federal agency Health Canada is shortening patients' lives by denying them access to clofazimine — a drug used to treat a deadly bacterial lung infection in persons who fail to respond to more conventional treatments, CBC News reported Monday.

"I am appalled and angry that a federal agency that we fund through our taxes would deny Canadian citizens who are dying of a treatable, infectious disease potentially life-saving medication," said Dr. David Forrest of Nanaimo, British Columbia. Forrest believes that clofazimine — used to treat leprosy in developing countries — could save the life of one of his patients who is gravely ill from a debilitating lung infection called Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC).

For years, Health Canada granted several "multi-drug resistant" patients access to clofazimine. But Health Canada recently reversed this policy and now denies access — a change that could have catastrophic consequences for patients, according to Forrest.

One of his patients, Dean Robertson, has been treated for MAC with several drugs since 2010, but none worked. Forrest says clofazimine worked well for another MAC patient he treated after receiving special approval from Health Canada. But the agency’s policy change prevents him from using it to treat Robertson.

"If I don't get this drug, I am going to possibly die from this infection," said Robertson, who was forced to stop working because of his illness.

"I'm 57 but I feel like I am 90," he added. "I can't stand or walk very long. The fatigue is unbelievable."

Robertson said another drug he took caused him to temporarily lose his sight. "I went blind. I woke up one morning and my vision was gone," he said.

Physicians and medical literature say the effects of clofazimine are mild by comparison — with the most prominent being a darkening of skin pigmention.

"The worst thing they have to deal with is their friends asking them whether they've been travelling down south because of their nice suntans," said Dr. Stephen Field of Calgary, another lung specialist fighting the to reverse Health Canada's decision to deny clofazimine.

Health Canada said the drug showed little or no efficacy in clinical tests, but Forrest and Field say they have seen it work multiple times. Moreover, they emphasize that the patients they are seeking to treat with clofazimine have nothing to lose.

Without it, "they can be sick and slowly deteriorate," said Field. "While on the medication, they often improve and can get on and live their life as well as they can."

"Responsibility for his death is going to lie squarely with Health Canada," Forrest said of what would happen if Robertson did not get the opportunity to try clofazimine. "The blood of these people is on their hands."

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Two lung disease specialists charge the federal agency Health Canada is shortening patients' lives by denying them access to clofazimine.
Tuesday, 11 June 2013 12:52 PM
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