Deregistered, defiant and ‘a risk’ to the public
DEREGISTERED doctor Andrew Katelaris admitted he was “flying blind” when he prepared “huge doses” of cannabis mixed with coconut oil and injected it directly into the ovarian cancers of two women at his Newcastle centre in September, 2015.
Nearly 18 months later - after the death of one of the women, further sanctions from the state’s health watchdog and a referral to police - Mr Katelaris insists health authorities are “retarding progress”, and his championing of cannabis oil as a “safe and effective herbal medication” for broad use is in the public interest.
“They’re irrelevant to my existence,” said Mr Katelaris on Wednesday about Health Care Complaints Commission sanctions against him after the state’s chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, made a formal complaint about Mr Katelaris’s “experiment” involving the two women, leading to “catastrophic” outcomes.
He said he had not been contacted by police after the HCCC referred its report and findings to police about how the two women were taken to the Calvary Mater and John Hunter hospitals by Mr Katelaris two days after the injections, and after both women experienced severe consequences.
They included “excruciating gut pain”, vomiting and diarrhea by one woman who died four months after the “trial”, and after telling Mr Katelaris in a text message that the severe side effects stopped her from chemotherapy treatment for two months which “allowed the cancer to go gang-busters again”.
“I lost so much ground during that time,” said the patient, identified by the HCCC as Ms K, in the text message on December 17, 2015.
In a statement on Wednesday Mr Katelaris criticised federal and state governments after a police raid on his Newcastle premises in December that led to the destruction of more than 200 cannabis plants.
But in a phone call with the Newcastle Herald he said he “couldn’t be bothered” appealing against the HCCC report that led to the police referral and raid, despite alleging the report contained “errors of fact”.
The HCCC report includes notes by a Calvary Mater Hospital registrar on September 4, 2015 after examining Ms K. The registrar noted she had received a “marijuana injection to the abdomen” by a deregistered doctor two days earlier. The notes include “? criminal negligence by Andrew Katelaris”.
Mr Katelaris told the HCCC he warned the two patients, both aged 56 and with ovarian cancer, on September 2, 2015, that cannabis oil injections directly into their tumours that had never been tried before “won’t kill you… but you’re on unchartered waters”.
In an interview with the HCCC in June, and after he was questioned about the women’s severe responses, Mr Katelaris said: “The ladies suffered too much. It was bad enough looking after them, right, let alone being them.”
He later denied “blaming them” for the “experimental trial”, after telling the HCCC that the women “were sort of on my case, I have to say. Well, I’m not blaming them”.
Mr Katelaris – who was deregistered in 2005 for matters relating to cannabis use and administration – admitted some of his cannabis suppliers could be “shady customers”, and he spent “sleepless nights” before giving the women the injections because he “wasn’t sure whether I had the balls to do it”.
He held the Department of Health responsible for the failure of his “experiment”, after alleging it prevented him from having the University of Sydney test the strength of the active ingredient in the cannabis oil he used. He placed blame “squarely at the feet of the ministry (of health)”, the HCCC found.
The HCCC report alleged a “deliberate failure” by Mr Katelaris to advise Calvary Mater staff of the cannabis injection when he took Ms K to hospital on September 4, 2015.
In a note to hospital staff on that day Mr Katelaris did not refer to the injection, and described Ms K as “a friend of mine” who was visiting Newcastle. In a note kept by Ms K, and tendered to the HCCC by Ms K’s sister, she stated that while the cut-off level for measuring the active ingredient in cannabis was 15, her urine sample in hospital showed a level of 4000 one week after the injection. She continued to feel “slightly stoned” one month after the injection.
Ms K described “excruciating gut pain” within 15 minutes of receiving the injection, and “violent vomiting” within 30 minutes.
“She stated that she was completely stoned and dropping in and out of lucidity,” the HCCC noted. The “stoned” state continued for a number of weeks.
The HCCC noted that when she was lucid, and while at Mr Katelaris’s Church of Ubuntu centre in Newcastle, Ms K expressed concern that “no one was making a clinical record of her reaction, fluid loss due to vomiting or fluctuating lucidity”.
“She was told they were ‘remembering’ and would make notes later,” the HCCC report said.
Ms M’s clinical notes from John Hunter Hospital record she was seen in the emergency department on September 4, 2015 – two days after her cannabis oil injection into her tumour – accompanied by a “friend” called Andrew.
Ms M “kept falling asleep and was unable to complete sentences”, the notes said. Staff were not advised of the cannabis oil injection.
“The true clinical picture could not be understood” and staff could not establish a “working diagnosis” until two days later when Ms M’s brother was contacted and Ms M told him about the injection during a lucid period, the HCCC noted.
Ms M had “denied the use of any complementary or alternative medicines” to hospital staff, the HCCC said, and continued to support Mr Katelaris. She described her injection as being part of a “brilliant novel trial”.
In his interview with the HCCC Mr Katelaris said he injected one of the women with cannabis mixed in a coconut oil solution, and when she told him after 20 minutes that the pain “wasn’t that bad”, he injected the second woman.
The HCCC said it appeared Mr Katelaris believed that demonstrated “his ability to chart a reasonable course between risk and risk avoidance”.
“We’re not cavalier and I’m not stupid,” he told the HCCC.
“I might be – and I’m not reckless. Right? There may be – there’s always a grey area between bold and stupid, but I like to stay in one of those shades of grey, not in a black or white sort of area.”
He told the HCCC the experiment was “at the fraught end” of his threshold for dealing with patients.
“By giving a person a little cap of oil to see how they react is one thing, injecting it – you know, there’s a one-way street. So before I do that again, I’d probably want hospital backing. And I would, yes, even sort of drag my feet backwards a bit and watch what other people do for awhile…. I’ve got enough on my plate,” he said.
Mr Katelaris was asked why he persisted in describing cannabis as a “safe and effective herbal medication” given what the commission termed a “catastrophic” outcome for both women.
“He completely and somewhat angrily repudiated the use of the word ‘catastrophic’,” the HCCC report said.
Mr Katelaris said he advised Calvary Mater that he gave Ms K the cannabis oil injection because he was concerned he and the patient were “getting into serious trouble…. it was just beyond my capacity to manage”.
He said he intended to tell John Hunter staff when Ms M was in the emergency department but he “didn’t ever get the opportunity to tell someone senior”.
The HCCC found his insight was “so deficient, that he poses a serious risk to the health and safety of the public”.
“The commission finds that he devised a hasty, ill-conceived and unsafe clinical trial of this experimental treatment, which would give him the ‘protection’ of a disclaimer if things went badly, but personal accolades and good publicity if things went well,” it found.
Mr Katelaris said he described himself as Dr Katelaris, despite being deregistered in 2005, because he had a “doctorate of medicine from the University of NSW for research work I’ve done”, which meant he was a “medical doctor rather than a medical bachelor”.
He supplied the Herald with a copy of the doctorate, and said his reliance on his doctorate to refer to himself as Dr Katelaris was “not an attempt to pretend I’m a registered doctor”.