Workers compensation claim seeks medical marijuana

Workers compensation claim seeks medical marijuana

It would be easier on Danny Auger’s already thin wallet if he just took a prescribed painkiller to deal with the chronic pain he suffers from nerve damage, due to a horrific 2009 construction accident that almost completely severed one arm. He is able to get medically prescribed drugs — no matter how addictive — paid for by the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (formerly Worker’s Compensation Board). But the 47-year-old Orillia man knows and fears the addictive aspects of painkillers and prefers to use marijuana (mostly through ingestion, occasionally smoking) to deal with his pain. For about two years he’s had a licence from Health Canada, supported by documentation from a medical doctor, that allows him to legally use it after obtaining it from a designated grower. The cannabis is expensive. Auger is allowed 20 grams a day, but he can’t afford that. He uses about an ounce, or 28 grams a week, which costs him $250 to $300. “It still leaves some of the pain … but you cope with it,’’ he says. His only income is $882 every two weeks from his worker’s comp benefits. He shares an apartment with his mother, who lives on a pension. Auger wants his marijuana covered through WSIB, just as a prescribed painkiller would be. So far, WSIB has said no. His case manager, Patti Staines, said she could not discuss an individual case with the Star. But the WSIB has also said no to other benefit recipients with similar requests. Many have appealed to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal, the independent body that decides disputes involving WSIB and claimants or employers. Often it has ordered WSIB to pay, noting the applicants have been officially granted access. (Cases are publicly searchable on its website.) The Brampton paralegal working on Auger’s appeal, Bain Thompson, expects his client to get a favourable decision from the tribunal. Thompson says he has won similar cases in the past, but the WSIB is not legally bound by previous tribunal decisions, even if the cases are similar. Each application is decided individually. Thompson believes it’s “common” for WSIB to deny applications for medical marijuana coverage because appeals can take a year or more to go to the tribunal. “They drag it out and the majority (of applicants) go away. If 10 knock on the door, only one might fight and stick it out’’ until it gets that far, he says. Auger seems the sort with that kind of staying power. On that terrible day in October 2009, Auger was working alone on a home renovation when he got his sleeve caught in a mitre saw. His left arm was nearly sliced off — left attached by only 5 millimetres of skin. Auger was faced with the ghastly necessity of having to “carry” his own arm while he ran out looking for help. But he had the presence of mind not to panic. Though no one was home at the first four houses, he found someone at home at the fifth, who called an ambulance. His arm was reattached at the hospital, but he lost three inches of it and recovered only partial use of the arm, with no fine motor skills. The horror of the experience is still with him and he is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. Auger doesn’t like synthetic drugs because he got addicted to Oxycontin when he was prescribed it about 10 years ago after a knee operation. When his prescription ran out, he bought it off the street for about a year before he said to himself, “‘This is crazy.’ … I stopped myself. It was very hard.’’ He’d also been prescribed the antidepressant Paxil for anxiety while he was going through a divorce several years ago. He took it for about six months but hated the side effects that made him feel like a “zombie.’’ Someone told him marijuana calmed people with anxiety issues, and he tried it. At that point he didn’t have a licence and bought it off the street. “I no longer got anxiety attacks,” he recalls. He continued to use it when he felt the need. But he is adamant that he had not used any marijuana on the day of his accident. At the hospital, he told doctors he didn’t want any prescription drugs. He was given an epidural, which “worked well.’’ But on release, he was given prescription drugs Oxycontin, Percocet and Ganapehin for pain, which were covered by WSIB. He didn’t want to use them, “But I didn’t have any choice when I left the hospital — I had to go home on something because of the pain,’’ Auger said. Of his own volition, he stopped using all prescription drugs six months ago, after gradually reducing the dosage. “It’s pretty hard to get off them,’’ he admits. But the medical marijuana has been “key,’’ and he now feels no withdrawal symptoms. It was after his hospital release, when he had the time to do research, that Auger said he learned that injesting marijuana “was supposed to work better (than smoking). I found a couple recipes and tried it. What I found was … the cookies I cooked with cannabis took my nerve pain from a throbbing roar to a dull numbness that I find tolerable enough to live with.’’Source:

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