In Victoria, Australian health officials are proposing to restrict permits currently allowing patients with mental illnesses to access psychedelics in a therapeutic framework back to research and clinical trials “approved by a human research ethics committee.”
At the moment, psychiatrists are allowed to apply for prescribing MDMA and psilocybin nationally through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the health department for patients who do not respond to other available treatments.
So far, the TGA has approved 12 MDMA and 5 psilocybin applications, the first to be used with patients suffering PTSD and the latter for patients with treatment-resistant depression, depression related to a terminal condition or anxiety.
Nonetheless, Victoria’s Department of Health stated that those permits were never approved by any state or territory and therefore the current proposal would be consistent with what other states and territories are doing, while also improving patient safety.
Response to the banning was immediate. John Ryan, head of harm reduction advocacy group Penington Institute said Victoria had once been a leader in considering innovative treatments such as medicinal cannabis, but this new move “is actually swimming against this tide, in the sense that it’s limiting clinicians making decisions in the interest of their patients.”
Mind Medicine Australia chairman Peter Hunt called the department’s proposal a cruel and backward step for those experiencing “unbearable suffering.” He recalled the permit system has existed for years, but when the first application for MDMA was made in Victoria in 2021, the Department of Health rejected it.
“There’s a lot of prejudice and bias within our public servants. There’s been this war on drugs for fifty years, and they seem incapable of separating recreational from medical use,” Hunt said.
Both advocate institutions are concerned about the recent consultation process, which they found as lacking transparency and rushed.
Meanwhile, the TGA stated it does not support the “inflexible” and effort-undermining proposal and recommended Victoria to remain discrete, as federal discretionary powers allow patients to access medicines that might not yet meet established standards but still prove clinical benefits that outweigh risks.
Now, among Victoria’s proposal supporters is the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists as well as Victoria’s chief psychiatrist. The college president, associate professor Vinay Lakra, stated that despite promising emerging evidence, more time is needed to better evaluate risks and benefits.
According to a statement made by a Victoria health department spokesperson, “The [local] government invests around $20 million a year to support harm reduction and stop the devastating effects of alcohol and other drugs in our communities.”
Photo courtesy of Susie Hedberg and only_kim on Shutterstock.
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