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If the Medicine Works Shouldn’t We All Have Access to it? A Recent Poll of Australians Says Yes We Should By Scott Leckie and Tania de Jong AM

(As published in The Daily Telegraph on 16th February 2022)

The painful COVID-era will fade but it will never be forgotten. This unanticipated period will be remembered for many things – death, suffering, economic and social disruptions and words like lockdown, iso, quarantine, social distancing, Zoom, omicron…

But beyond changes in the way we live and communicate, it is the devastating toll on our mental health that will continue for generations to come. Depression, anxiety, trauma, suicide, addiction, loss of livelihoods, domestic violence and broken families are increasing. We have never felt more isolated, alone and uncertain about our futures.

Our families and communities are suffering, and we urgently need access to preventative and curative medicines and medical care that is safe and effective.

Mental health charity Mind Medicine Australia recently commissioned Essential Research to conduct a representative opinion poll of more than 1,000 Australians. It found that only a small minority was aware of the immense promise of psychedelic-assisted therapy, with just 11% of those asked aware of the medicinal properties of these substances and their potential use in controlled settings. This is despite over 160 recent studies by some of the most prestigious research institutions – Johns Hopkins University, Imperial College London, Oxford, Yale to name but a few – clearly showing the quantifiably positive impacts that these substances can have when used as medicines in combination with therapy, under the guidance of trained doctors and therapists in a clinical environment.

These ground-breaking treatments offer therapeutic access to either psilocybin (the active ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’) or MDMA, a synthetic medicine. These therapies have been scientifically proven to be safe, non-addictive and effective cures for depression, trauma, end-of-life anxiety and addictions after a short treatment program. Remission rates range between 60-80% with no serious adverse events.

Both medicines have been granted Breakthrough Therapy Status by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States to fast-track their approval. This designation is only given to medicines that may prove to be vastly superior to existing treatments.

Although the recent poll showed that only one in nine Australians was aware of these impacts, when they were informed about the results of recent studies, their views changed dramatically towards supporting access to these promising medicines that remain illegal under Australian law. 67% agreed that ‘People experiencing terminal illness should have the choice to use psychedelic-assisted therapy to ease end of life distress’, 63% agreed ‘People experiencing mental illness should have the choice to access them in medically-controlled environments and as an alternative option for treatment-resistant patients’’, and 60% agreed ‘The difference between medical and recreational use of psychedelic substances should be legislatively recognised’.

Trials are underway in Australia and the demand for these therapies is accelerating rapidly. As ever more legal jurisdictions legalise, decriminalise or otherwise tolerate these substances – Oregon, Washington DC, Jamaica, Canada, the Netherlands and elsewhere – support will grow further. Given our publicly funded health care system, mental health epidemic and human right to access to all forms of safe and effective medicine, huge majorities rightly believe that people should not be prevented from legally accessing medicines in therapeutic settings that can help them in ways that no other pre-existing medicines can.

An official decision by the Therapeutic Goods Authority last year refused to reschedule both psilocybin and MDMA as Controlled Medicines (Schedule 8). This rescheduling would make it easier for doctors to access these therapies in clinical environments for treatment-resistant patients through our Special Access pathways. If these legislative changes continue to be delayed, many more desperate people will seek the treatments underground. Everyone deserves the chance to get well.

A new international campaign on the Right to Universal Access to Safe and Effective Medicine is now underway seeking support for a declaration to this effect, while another initiative is seeking the international rescheduling of psilocybin under the UN drug control regime. There is a growing global movement and a trillion dollar market is emerging. Continuing the status quo not only makes little sense in terms of public health but it is also cruel. There is increasing awareness that help is available, yet these treatments are being withheld even though existing medicines don’t work for the majority.

Arguably, continuing to deny access to these medicines is also a clear human rights violation. Refusing and making illegal therapeutic access to safe medicines with a proven effect violates a whole range of internationally recognised human rights, including the right to the highest attainable level of physical and mental health, the right to access all forms of safe and effective medicines, the right to access pain medication, the right to dignity of the human person, and even the right to be free from inhumane, cruel or degrading treatment or punishment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that we all deserve access to high quality treatment. As the pandemic becomes endemic, let’s turn our collective minds to ensuring that everyone everywhere has access to each safe and effective medicine. Medicines that are non-addictive, non-toxic, voluntarily taken, administered by trained medical professionals and implemented lawfully, without the threat of sanction for either the patient or the doctor involved.

This issue is not only relevant to conservative, progressive or ecological voters. It is personal because an estimated 50% of us will experience a mental illness in our lifetime. The people are ready and support change. It’s time for the politicians, political parties and all our Governments to follow suit and act with urgency to avoid further avoidable suffering and suicide.

Scott Leckie

Scott A. Leckie is an international Human Rights lawyer, Law Professor and Director and Founder of Displacement Solutions, an NGO dedicated to resolving cases of forced displacement throughout the world, in particular displacement caused by climate change. He also founded and directs Oneness World Foundation (www.onenessworld.org), a think tank exploring questions of world-centric political evolution and new forms of global governance.

He hosts Jointly Venturing, a podcast dedicated to the question of world citizenship, and manages the One House, One Family initiative, an ongoing project in Bangladesh building homes for climate displaced families. He regularly advises a number of United Nations agencies and conceived of and was the driving force behind more than 100 international human rights legal and other normative standards, including UN resolutions – most recently the Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement Within States. He has written 22 books and over 250 major articles and reports.

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

Tania de Jong AM is a trail-blazing Australian soprano, award-winning social entrepreneur, creative innovation catalyst, spiritual journey woman, storyteller and global speaker. Tania is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs and innovators developing 6 businesses and 3 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors and is passionate about mental health, innovation, diversity and inclusion.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She is Founder and Executive Producer of future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global and is now producing the Global Summit on Psychedelic Medicines for Mental Health.

She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008. Tania was named in the 100 Women of Influence, the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and named as one of the 100 most influential people in psychedelics globally in 2021. Tania’s TED Talk ‘How Singing Together Changes The Brain’ has sparked international interest. Tania’s mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!

Healing A Troubled Mind: A Personal Perspective On Victoria’s Stagnant Mental Health System by Dr Eli Kotler

Person standing near lake

The Royal Commission’s report on the Victorian mental health system sent shockwaves throughout the State, one of which landed squarely on a patient of mine. They noted that Victoria’s mental health system is “not geared for…change”. Just to ensure we got the message, and despite a Federal Government TGA approval, my request to treat my traumatized patient with MDMA-assisted therapy was declined by our state’s regulatory authority.

To be clear, my disappointment lies not with the state government regulators, nor with the medical opinions suggesting MDMA-assisted therapy should not be used for treatment of traumatized patients (despite excellent emerging evidence that it works with little risk). I understand these opinions, though I certainly do not agree with them.

My issue is a more troublesome one. Underlying these opinions is a problem with how we practice psychiatry, which in turn reflects the alienated community in which we live. Mental health paradigms are always a reflection of the society which supports them. You see, us Australians are alienated both intra-personally (from our own emotional worlds) and inter-personally.

Our current paradigms tend to view mental illnesses in a biologically reductive way. In other words, mental illnesses are both understood and treated primarily as biological diseases (which they are not). The posters at your doctor’s rooms will teach you – depression is just like any other medical disease, such as heart-failure or emphysema. In this paradigm, entities such as addictions and depression are seen as distinct phenomena. They are treated in our current system as totally different diagnoses by entirely different teams. The alienated individual who suffers from depression and addiction is labeled with the alienating and erroneous term ‘dual-diagnosis’, which enshrines the division. Furthermore, if addictions are understood (as they are) as inherited conditions (which they are not), and primarily as brain diseases based in dysfunctional dopamine rewards circuits, they will be primarily treated as inherited brain diseases, by doctors with medications.

But what if we have got it all wrong (which we do). You see, addictions are heritable but not inherited (there is a big difference, I recommend looking it up), and the chemical dopamine in no-way explains addictions. Rather, it is the human experience of dopamine (along with numerous other chemicals) which explains addictions, suggesting that addictions are rooted in difficulties with the human experience of life, rather than the neural correlates of those experiences.

The events which lie at the root of illnesses such as addictions and depression are those which overwhelm the mind’s ability to process and integrate. We know that the presence of adverse childhood experiences is present in the majority of (if not all) people with addictions and chronic depression. But rather than seeing these conditions as consequences of trauma (which they are) and treating the underlying emotional issues (which would help), our society mistakes the symptoms (depression and anxiety) for the disease itself. We treat depression as depression and addiction as addiction and all the while we are missing the forest for the trees. The real disease is the high prevalence of trauma, alienation, and neglect in our society. After all, it is these conditions which twist and distort the mind into the contortions which fill the latest catalogues of mental illnesses.

Which brings me back to my patient. Traumatized when young, she has suffered from every diagnosis a psychiatrist’s finger can point at. She has had every treatment a medical guideline can fathom. Yet her trauma remains in place, because no-one has been able to reach it. Suddenly, on the horizon, a change is coming. Treatments like MDMA-assisted therapy appear to touch the root of the trauma, allowing individuals to process the unintegrated parts of their minds, and offer the chance of real healing. But we don’t change. Our outlooks have ossified, our diagnoses have desiccated. And all the while we suffer in our own blindness. People continue to kill themselves, and my patient will continue to suffer in silence until the Victorian Government allows me to access a new treatment which may finally bring peace to a troubled mind.

Dr Eli Kotler

MBBS MPM FRANZCP Cert. Old Age Psych. AFRACMA

Eli is a consultant psychiatrist, holds an academic position at Monash University through the Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, and is the medical director of Malvern Private Hospital, the first addiction hospital in Australia. He is a member of the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs (APSAD). Clinically, Eli is interested in the deep connections between trauma and addiction and works within a neuro-psychoanalytic framework. Eli has overseen the development of a clinical program for addictions focused on trauma, particularly developmental trauma. This has led to an interest in medication-assisted trauma therapy. Eli worked for many years researching neurodegenerative diseases and was the principle investigator on numerous trials for novel therapeutics. He is founding member of the Melbourne Neuropsychoanalytic Group and welcomes new members. Through involvement with Monash University, Eli oversees the addiction rotation for medical students.

Eli graduated from the first intake of the Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies (CPAT) in June 2021. He has also been recently appointed as the Principal Investigator to lead Emyria’s upcoming MDMA trial.

Mind Medicine Australia Celebrates 2-Year Anniversary by Tania de Jong AM and Peter Hunt AM

Second anniversary

 

This week Mind Medicine Australia turns two years old! In our two years, we have made remarkable progress in growing public awareness of Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy in Australia. We are already seeing a paradigm shift in the curiosity, acceptance and interest into the use of medicine-assisted therapy for depression, addiction, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anorexia and other mental and physical illnesses in our communities.

In order to help those who are suffering with mental illness we have focused on four key strategic areas. Please see our strategic objectives to build the ecosystem in Australia for these medicines here.

Strategy

What we have achieved in our two years with your support:

Awareness and Knowledge Building

Access to Medically Approved Therapy

Professional Development Program (Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies)

Asia-Pacific Centre for Emerging Mental Health Therapies (CEMHT)

The progress we are making in public education was exemplified in several headline media articles including in the Australian Financial Review, The Australian, the Age, Herald Sun, The Saturday Paper and Vogue Australia and media interviews including with The Project, ABC and other stations.

Our primary focus over the next couple of years will be on psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, given their “Breakthrough Therapy Designation” with the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) in the United States and the strong clinical evidence that supports both their effectiveness and safety. We are also interested in developing other medicines to treat a variety of conditions.

Behind the scenes, we are working closely with key stakeholders to ensure that these therapies will be accessible and affordable to all Australians needing these treatments in medically-controlled environments, so that cost and geography doesn’t become a barrier.

In the last year, we have assembled a comprehensive leadership team with expertise in mental illness including psychology, neuroscience and pharmacology, non-profit development, business practices and networks, public health, events and educational development.

Mind Medicine Australia is also supported by an outstanding Board, Ambassadors and an Advisory Panel of over 60 local and international experts in medicine, psychiatry, psychology, pharmacology, research, science more broadly, ethics, law, policy, anthropology, business and therapeutic practices.

We are currently preparing for our International Summit on Psychedelic Therapies for Mental Illness to be held at the Sofitel in Melbourne this November. We have a global line-up of world leaders in medicine-assisted psychotherapies and other outstanding thought leaders on topics ranging from medicine and anthropology to neuroscience and ethics. We are now confirming financial, endorsing and media partners and would appreciate as much support as possible to produce a brilliant event.

Our much anticipated Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies launched in January 2021. We are thrilled to welcome a wonderful group of GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, mental health nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, addiction specialists and counsellors.

As we begin 2021, our vision and capacity continues to grow, as does the need to make medicine-assisted psychotherapy a legally available treatment through our medical system for the increasing number of individuals suffering as a result of the pandemic, environmental challenges and global trends which challenge social cohesiveness and social inclusion.

We ask for your continued and expanded support so that we can fund the path for psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to help treat the millions experiencing mental illness in Australia. This is personal for every one of us.

“Psychedelics are to the study of the mind what the microscope is to biology and the telescope is to astronomy.” – Dr Stanislav Grof

Enormous gratitude to all of our supporters, partners, Board, Ambassadors, Advisory Panel, Team, Chapters and volunteers.

This is a collective mission and we need all of you by our sides.

On behalf of Mind Medicine Australia

Peter Hunt AM, Chair & Tania de Jong AM, Executive Director

Tania de Jong AM

LL.B (Hons), GradDipMus

Tania de Jong AM is a trail-blazing Australian soprano, award-winning social entrepreneur, creative innovation catalyst, spiritual journey woman, storyteller and global speaker. Tania is one of Australia’s most successful female entrepreneurs and innovators developing 6 businesses and 3 charities including Creative Universe, Creativity Australia and With One Voice, Creative Innovation Global, Mind Medicine Australia, Dimension5, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.

She works across the public, private, creative and community sectors and is passionate about mental health, innovation, diversity and inclusion.  Tania speaks and sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing twelve albums. She is Founder and Executive Producer of future-shaping events series, Creative Innovation Global and is now producing the Global Summit on Psychedelic Medicines for Mental Health.

She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2008. Tania was named in the 100 Women of Influence, the 100 Australian Most Influential Entrepreneurs and named as one of the 100 most influential people in psychedelics globally in 2021. Tania’s TED Talk ‘How Singing Together Changes The Brain’ has sparked international interest. Tania’s mission is to change the world, one voice at a time!

Peter Hunt AM

B.Com, LL.B

As an investment banker Peter Hunt AM advised local and multi-national companies and governments in Australia for nearly 35 years.  He co-founded and was Executive Chairman of one of Australia’s leading investment banking advisory firms, Caliburn Partnership (now called Greenhill Australia) and continued as Chairman of the Firm after its sale to Greenhill Inc in 2009. Peter was a member of the Advisory Panel of ASIC and chaired the Vincent Fairfax Family Office.

Peter is an active philanthropist involved in funding, developing and scaling social sector organisations which seek to create a better and fairer world.  He is Chairman of Mind Medicine Australia which he established with his wife, Tania de Jong, in 2018. He founded Women’s Community Shelter in 2011 and remains on the Board. He was previously Chairman of So They Can, Grameen Australia and Grameen Australia Philippines. Peter is a Director of Project Rozana and an Advisory Board member of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute. Peter also acts as a pro bono adviser to Creativity Australia. 

Peter was made a member of the General Division of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2010 for services to the philanthropic sector.

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It's time. Make your voice heard. Lodge a submission to the TGA supporting rescheduling of MDMA and Psilocybin. Closes May 27.