Medical marijuana payouts to veterans highest in New Brunswick
Province accounts for 42% of reimbursements, with Oromocto and Fredericton ranking as top two municipalities
New Brunswick veterans accounted for more than 42 per cent of medical marijuana reimbursements paid by Veterans Affairs Canada last year, CBC News has learned.
This, despite the fact that only about 4.6 per cent of all Canadian Forces veterans currently live in the province, according to estimates from the federal government.
Veterans in New Brunswick received $2,239,738 in 2014-2015, figures obtained from Veterans Affairs Canada show.
By comparison, the total payments across the country during the same period amounted to $5,225,107.
New Brunswick also had the largest number of veterans reimbursed at 216, representing one-third of the nationwide total of 648.
The bulk of them were in Oromocto and Fredericton — the two Canadian municipalities with the highest number of residents receiving payments.
Seventy-eight veterans living in Oromocto were reimbursed, and 68 in Fredericton. By comparison, only six veterans living in Toronto were paid for their use of medical marijuana.
In a statement to CBC News, Veterans Affairs Canada said, "Marijuana is not an approved drug or medicine in Canada. The Government of Canada does not endorse the use of marijuana, but the courts have required reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana when authorized by a physician."
The figures come after a CBC News investigation in April showed that Veterans Affairs Canada spent 65 per cent of the $5.2 million in national payments on veterans in Atlantic Canada.
(Zoom in or out of this heat map to see where the most medical marijuana payouts are in Canada)
Fabian Henry, a former Canadian Forces member who operates Marijuana for Trauma, was not available for interview this week.
But Henry has previously attributed the high numbers in the region, at least in part, to his Oromocto-based company.
Marijuana for Trauma helps to introduce medical marijuana to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
It connects veterans with physicians willing to authorize medical cannabis. The organization has also helped hundreds of veterans to fill out forms for medical marijuana reimbursement from Veterans Affairs Canada.
"I can't keep up right now at this point, it's so busy. Guys are calling me from the other side of the country and back, saying, 'Please help me.' And I'm going to help every single one of them," he said.
Henry, who did six tours during his 12 years in the military, says he doesn't charge veterans.
Some of his services are billable to Veterans Affairs Canada. He also relies on loans and donations, he said.
In addition to the Oromocto location, Marijuana for Trauma currently has offices in Sydney, N.S, St. John's, N.L., and Markham, Ont.
Henry also plans to set up shop in Halifax this summer and soon after in Victoria, Valcartier, Que., and Edmonton.
Dr. Doug Smith, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation in Fredericton, who prescribes medical marijuana, says the growing local numbers come as no surprise.
"Knowing Fabian Henry at Marijuana for Trauma, that doesn't surprise me at all," said Smith. (Smith is also president of a company that has applied for a licence to grow and sell medicinal marijuana.)
The numbers are also on the rise across Canada, according to the Veterans Affairs reimbursement figures.
The national pay out of $5.2 million in 2014-2015 is a 12-fold increase over the previous year, when the government spent $417,000 on medical marijuana for soldiers.
Smith said the statistics reflect his experience in dealing with patients with chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
I have seen a significant number of individuals, whose primary problem seems to be PTSD , who have on their own discovered that cannabis worked much better for them as medicine than all of the other prescriptions that they have used earlier.- Doug Smith, Fredericton doctor
"I have seen a significant number of individuals, whose primary problem seems to be PTSD, who have on their own discovered that cannabis worked much better for them as medicine than all of the other prescriptions that they have used earlier."
In September 2014, the College of Family Physicians of Canada released a document to help doctors decide how to use cannabis in their practices. It expressed concern that doctors are "asked to authorize our patients' access to a product with little evidence to support its use, and in the absence of regulatory oversight and approval."
Smith said he recommends cannabis be used after patients try other methods of treatment, like exercise and meditation.
"I would emphasize that those are always strategies that I encourage people to take first, whether dealing with chronic pain, PTSD or other issues," said Smith.
"But certainly, if you do have to take something, cannabis is a very safe medicine."