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Chronic pain sufferers want a medicinal cannabis clinic in Dubbo

Tracey Napper and Sharon Badger express need for medicinal cannabis clinic in Dubbo.

Sharon Badger, left, with Tracey Napper, the manager of Dubbo fibromyalgia support group. Picture: Supplied

People suffering from chronic pain are desperate for alternative treatment after restrictions were placed on accessing opioid medication.

Two women, sick without a cure, describe the consequences of not being able to treat their pain. They say a medicinal cannabis clinic would help them and many others in similar situations.

Tracey Napper runs a support group for more than 200 people diagnosed with fibromyalgia in and around Dubbo. She also suffers from degenerative disc disease. Ms Napper is 46-years-old and has been in pain since she was 23.

"Just to be able to have a five minute shower... the exertion is as if [I had] played a game of football," she said.

Fibromyalgia is a common yet complex condition where people experience long lasting pain. The cause is unknown, it can be hereditary or caused by a traumatic accident, event, or illness. The symptoms include widespread pain, soreness, lack of sleep, and fatigue.

Ms Napper said things that she needs to do everyday, like housework and looking after her family, cause her "horrific pain and anxiety".

"Just to be able to stand up and cook a meal for our family, it's very hard for us to do that. The kids get upset, the husbands get upset, everybody's not eating properly, because I haven't cooked dinner. They're just doing quick and easy stuff," she said.

The latest report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 1.6 million Australians aged 45 and above experienced chronic pain. It also stated that their chronic pain increased with age.

Ms Napper had been on morphine for many years for her pain condition. However, after new health regulations were introduced in 2020, she did not meet the criteria to continue the treatment.

"It's gotten to a point where we don't have anything to fall back on... they say it's just pain we have to live with," she said.

Tracey Napper, right, with Cherie Greaves in Dubbo raising awareness for fibromyalgia in 2019. Picture: Taylor Dodge

Ms Napper has been directed to do yoga, tai chi and swimming, but she says the exercise has not helped with her pain.

She said there were several people in Dubbo who would benefit from a medicinal cannabis facility. She said it was a matter of having doctors and specialists to approve them for treatment.

Sixty-year-old Sharon Badger, another member of the support group, has been struggling with chronic pain and fatigue for the last 30 years. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia by a rheumatoid specialist in her 30s but has been taken off opioid pain medication because of the new rules.

"That's just totally wrong, to have gone from one extreme to the other without finding a middle road. We're hanging in there with nothing, with no help," Ms Badger said.

"I've been a chronic pain person for many years and have never been addicted to medication. [Doctors] just say to take Panadol. Panadol doesn't make the cut at all... but you do the best you can."

"The way to explain the pain is that it's deep inside and you can't touch it, but you can feel it," she said.

Before retiring, Ms Badger worked as a pathologist. She said she had known several people in the community who were "frustrated and in lots of pain that can't get any access to pain relief".

"People who have been on [medication] for many years can't it get anymore. I really don't know how they would be coping with that." said.

Ms Badger currently takes over the counter hemp seed oil to fall asleep every night. She says Dubbo "definitely" needs a medical cannabis clinic for people with her condition.

The Riverina's first medicinal cannabis clinic in Wagga Wagga opened its doors in April 2022. The clinic aimed to fill gaps in local healthcare and provide alternative treatments to chronic pain and anxiety. Chronic pain sufferers who accessed the medication said they experienced an improved quality of life.

Doctor Tricia Overvliet of Hammond Health says she was motivated to open a medicinal cannabis clinic to assist people with pain management who have run out of other options. Picture: Emily Wind

"Having this kind of treatment can make our day-to-day life easier," Ms Napper, manager of Dubbo fibromyalgia support group, said. "It'll give us some kind of hope that we can actually be able to do something better with our lives instead of just sitting here in pain all the time."

The only pharmacy in Dubbo that stocks medicinal cannabis products is Delroy TerryWhite Chemmart Pharmacy. Other pharmacies will order products on a as-needed basis.

TerryWhite pharmacist Kaail Bohm said it was not easy to get prescriptions for these products. Only a NSW registered doctor who had obtained a Special Access Scheme (SAS) approval could prescribe these products.

"At the moment, it's rare to see someone with chronic pain to access [medicinal cannabis products]," he said. "There seems to be a barrier to accessing it... because not all doctors are across all the legislation that they need to to be able to [prescribe] these products," he said.

There are only three doctors in Dubbo who are qualified to prescribe medicinal cannabis. Two general physicians and one oncologist who strictly works with cancer patients.

As of 2021, an estimated 600,000 Australians self-medicated with cannabis, with chronic pain a leading cause for its use. Originally published here:

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