Proceedings: DIA Annual Canadian Meeting 2018

Best Practices in Policy Development and Direction – Opioids, Cannabis, and Ads

Megan Bettle
Regulatory Review of Drugs and Devices
Health Canada


oing beyond the pharmaceutical space, this session focused on best practices for developing government policy. How can governments really ensure that health policies reflect the needs of the population, as well as regulated policies?

Key Takeaways

  • Best practices for meaningful government engagement with stakeholders need to evolve with the particular situations and stakeholders.
  • Policy thinking needs to evolve with changes in technology and communication.

The Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy: Changing the Policy Model to Address a Crisis

Response to the ongoing opioid crisis in Canada has required creative policy approaches. The Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy is based on the pillars of prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement—all with a public health lens and based in evidence and data.

Some of the priorities of the strategy include engaging those most affected by the opioid crisis in order to develop effective policies, seeing problematic drug use first and foremost as a health issue and recognizing the impact of the stigma associated with substance use, such as poor medical care resulting from being flagged as a drug user.

People with “lived experience” are key stakeholders in controlled substances policy. Who are they? This group includes people currently or formerly using drugs, people in treatment and recovery, those with chronic pain who use prescription drugs, family members and friends, and key organizations.

As described, by engaging people with lived experience in drug policy development, Canada has broken new ground by being the first country to take a person who uses drugs to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs as part of the official government delegation. This meeting of the Commission led to success in passing a Canada-proposed resolution to support reducing barriers to treatment arising from stigma against drug use.

In summary, best practices for meaningful stakeholder engagement in policy development include creating a supportive environment, having involvement that is truly meaningful, making the process understandable, and adapting government processes to people’s lives. Meet people where they are.

Innovation and Collaboration Frameworks for Medical Cannabis

Canada’s recent (October 17, 2018) legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes is almost unique in the world. While this has received significant attention, a parallel medical cannabis system still exists. It has evolved over many years, with changes often driven by court challenges. While the medical system provides access to cannabis for medical needs as determined by a healthcare professional, cannabis dispensed through this system is not a Health Canada-approved therapeutic product.

A speaker from a medical cannabis company felt that through this transition period and beyond, there is still a place for a regulated medical cannabis system, particularly to address the needs of vulnerable groups, such as children, to ensure the quality of the product and to support the quality of health outcomes information.

Possibilities for private-public collaboration were identified as important to support research and development in this area.

Health Product Advertising

Health Canada regulates the advertising of health products under the Food and Drugs Act. A key element includes limits on direct-to-consumer advertising. But what is advertising? The line that separates sharing factual information from promotional activities can be a fine one.

An update was provided on planned changes to Health Canada’s regulatory advertising program, including planned updates to the overarching advertising policy to incorporate social media platforms, and the move from a complaint-based assessment process to a more proactive one, focusing first on advertising of opioid drugs.