19 May 2021: OIA response | Medicinal cannabis prescriptions over the 2020 year

19 May 2021 

Dear [name and contact details withheld]

REQUEST FOR INFORMATION

Thank you for your request dated 20 April 2021 under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) for information relating to medicinal cannabis prescriptions. You asked: 

  1. How many medicinal cannabis prescriptions were prescribed over the 2020 year?
  2. How many patients were prescribed medicinal cannabis over the 2020 year?
  3. How many of those medicinal cannabis prescriptions over the 2020 year were subsidised?
  4. How many of those medicinal cannabis prescriptions over the 2020 year were not subsidised?
  5. (If applicable) What medicinal cannabis brands are subsidised in the 2020 year and in the 2021 year?
  6. (If applicable) What medicinal cannabis brands are not subsidised in the 2020 year and in the 2021 year?
  7. (If applicable) What would be the reason(s) as to why medicinal cannabis isn't subsidised?

Medicinal cannabis product prescriptions in 2020

Please note, regarding questions 1 and 2 of your request, PHARMAC only holds information on the number of subsidised medicines that have been dispensed. This means we do not hold information for unsubsidised medicines, or the number of prescriptions issued to people who access unsubsidised medicines. 

For the above reason, we must decline your request for the number of medicinal cannabis prescriptions issued and the number of patients prescribed medicinal cannabis products in 2020, on the grounds that we do not hold the information requested and we do not believe the information is held by any other organisation (section 18(g)(i) of the OIA). 

Please note you have the right, by way of complaint under section 28(3) of the OIA to an Ombudsman, to seek an investigation and review of our decision. 

Additionally, we consulted with the Medicinal Cannabis Agency (MCA) about your request. MCA advised they do not record the number of medicinal cannabis product prescriptions issued however, it provided a link to a publicly available copy of MCA’s response to a request for official information (H202008348) about medicinal cannabis products(external link) which includes a dataset of all applications to prescribe a medicinal cannabis product, from January 2017 to October 2020, under regulation 22 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1977. 

Use the following URL to view the full MCA OIA response: https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/information-release/h202008348_11_dec_2020.pdf(external link) 

Number and brand of medicinal cannabis products subsidised/not subsidised in 2020

To date, PHARMAC has not listed any medicinal cannabis products on the Pharmaceutical Schedule, however, we can use our Named Patient Pharmaceutical Assessment (NPPA) application process to consider whether to fund a treatment for an individual when the person has exceptional clinical circumstances. 

In the calendar year 2020, PHARMAC approved four NPPA applications for medicinal cannabis products, which resulted in 19 subsidised prescriptions. 

In 2020 and 2021, we funded two brands of medicinal cannabis products via NPPA: Sativex and Tilray. 

More information about NPPA applications for medicinal cannabis products can be found on our website: https://pharmac.govt.nz/medicine-funding-and-supply/the-funding-process/from-application-to-funded-medicine-how-we-fund-a-medicine/funding-for-medicinal-cannabis-products/medicinal-cannabis-funding-for-individuals/

Reasons why medicinal cannabis products are not subsidised by PHARMAC

PHARMAC has previously sought clinical advice from the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee (PTAC) about funding cannabidiol with tetrahydrocannabinol (Sativex) for the treatment of multiple sclerosis spasticity, epilepsy, pain and spasticity. 

In 2015, PTAC recommended that PHARMAC decline to list Sativex on the Pharmaceutical Schedule for the noted indications. 

More information about funding applications for medicinal cannabis products can be found on our website: https://pharmac.govt.nz/medicine-funding-and-supply/the-funding-process/from-application-to-funded-medicine-how-we-fund-a-medicine/funding-for-medicinal-cannabis-products/general-funding-applications-for-medicinal-cannabis

Additional information about funding medicinal cannabis products

We have previously published our responses to requests for information about funding medicinal cannabis products to our website. View our responses using the hyperlinks below or by going to www.pharmac.govt.nz > About > What we do > Accountability information > Official Information Act.

Published responses about funding medicinal cannabis products:

We trust that this information answers your queries. We are making our information more freely available, so we now publish selected OIA responses (excluding personal details) on our website. Please get in touch with us if you have any questions about this.

Yours sincerely 

Rachel Read
Manager, Policy and Government Services