Hunt petitioned on medicines

One large petition calls for hydroxychloroquine to go OTC, while others request downscheduling of cannabis and PBS listing of a common medicine

Minister for Health Greg Hunt has responded to a petition requesting that hydroxychloroquine be made available over the counter.

Nearly 400 people had signed the petition, arguing that hydroxychloroquine is safe and can be used to effectively prevent and reduce the mortality rate of COVID-19.

They argued that numerous studies from reputable and reliable sources show this to be the case.

However Minister Hunt knocked back the request.

“In Australia, hydroxychloroquine has been assessed as a prescription only medicine because it is used for conditions that require the diagnosis and intervention from a medical practitioner,” he said in a response provided on 15 February.

“It is important to be aware that hydroxychloroquine can have serious side effects, including cardiac toxicity (potentially leading to sudden heart attacks), irreversible eye damage and severe depletion of blood sugar (potentially leading to coma).

“As such, it is appropriate for hydroxychloroquine to remain a prescription medicine,” said Minister Hunt.

“Based on the current available evidence, my Department strongly discourages the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat or prevent COVID-19, unless the patient is enrolled in a clinical trial,” he added.

Minister Hunt pointed out that the US FDA has also cautioned against the use of COVID-19 outside of hospital or clinical trial settings, due to the risk of adverse effects, and the UK medicines regulator has suspended recruitment to all studies of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19.

Meanwhile a new petition tabled to Parliament on 15 February 2021 called for cannabis to be rescheduled from Schedule 8 to Schedule 4 of the Poisons Standard.

Twenty-two citizens signed the petition which argued that “marijuana prohibition is having negative health effects on Australians due to the black market only seeking profit, which has allowed for unregulated growing conditions and unknown chemicals used in the cultivation of plants”.

“Many citizens have turned to cannabis products as an alternative means of medical treatment to help deal with the side effects of medication, to reduce pain from cancer, chronic and neuropathic conditions/disease as well as reducing the severity of epilepsy, anxiety, autism, treatment-resistant depression, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting amongst countless other debilitating conditions,” reads the petition.

“There are also tremendous socioeconomic benefits that come with making this decision.

“We therefore ask the House to consider rescheduling cannabis from Schedule 8 to Schedule 4 of the Poisons Standard which will reduce the criminality surrounding cannabinoids, permit more research to be done and allow for faster access of medicinal CBD products for disease burdened individuals who are confused by the current restrictions imposed on marijuana.”

While cannabis itself – when prepared or packed for human therapeutic use – is currently Schedule 8, cannabidiol (CBD) is Schedule 4 in Australia.

However the TGA recently made a decision for certain low dose cannabidiol (CBD) preparations to be downscheduled from S4 to S3 (Pharmacist Only medicine).

“The decision will allow low-dose CBD containing products, up to a maximum of 150 mg/day, for use in adults that have been approved by the TGA, to be supplied over-the-counter by a pharmacist, without a prescription,” said the TGA in December 2020.

There are currently no TGA-approved products on the ARTG that meet the Schedule 3 criteria.

Finally eight citizens have petitioned the government to consider Buscopan for PBS listing.

“I’m on disability, like many others low income,” wrote the original petitioner.

“Recently got put on Buscopan for pain relief and it worked on pain cramps and spasm the problem is expense. Is $50 a box this medicine is as I recently found out works for me. if you take 2 a day from box of 30. Goes fast. (sic)”

The petition asked the House to examine why Buscopan is not listed on the PBS.

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