British Columbia

Victoria family makes emotional plea for coverage of Parkinson's drug

The family of a Victoria woman with advanced Parkinson's disease is pleading with the province to cover the cost of a drug called Duodopa.

Current pills leave Patti Wood gasping for breath until medication kicks in, daughter says

Patti Wood has advanced Parkinson's disease. Her daughter Jenny Wood says the symptoms can interfere with her breathing. (Jenny Wood)

The family of a Victoria woman with advanced Parkinson's disease is pleading with the province to cover the cost of a medication called Duodopa.

Patti Wood's Parkinson's symptoms have become so severe that she has been in and out of hospital in recent weeks. 

She takes medications in pill form, but they don't work quickly enough when the symptoms come on, says her daughter, Jenny Wood.

"The pills can take up to an hour and a half to work. And if, like my mom, you can't breathe, an hour and a half of panting for breath is an absolutely horrific way to live," she said.

A therapy called Duodopa, which delivers a combination of medications in a gel through an intestinal pump, was developed to help patients control disabling motor symptoms.

The therapy has been approved for use by Health Canada — but the $60,000 per year cost isn't covered by B.C.'s pharmacare plan.

The province says there isn't enough evidence to demonstrate Duodopa improves quality of life enough to support the high cost.

Duodopa not covered in B.C.

"The Common Drug Review and the Drug Benefit Council reviewed Duodopa for the treatment of Parkinson's disease, recommending that participating jurisdictions not list Duodopa on the formularies due to the manufacturer's extremely high cost," said Ministry of Health spokeswoman Kristy Anderson in an email.

"Based on the clinical evidence and the ministry's financial resources to cover very expensive drugs, the ministry decided not to list Duodopa."

But Jenny Wood says the situation is frustrating because her mother's recent hospital stays alone likely cost more than the drug would have.

"It is a constant cycle of pills and symptoms and it is an awful, awful way to live," she said.

Some other provinces have chosen to cover the cost of Duodopa.

Jean Blake, CEO of the Parkinson's Society of British Columbia, is hoping B.C.'s Ministry of Health is willing to give it another look.

"This is turning into a life or death situation for some people. Time is not on their side," Blake said.

Even though the cost of the therapy is high, only about a dozen patients in the province would currently be eligible for Duodopa therapy, Blake said.