OPINION: An open letter to Health Minister Tyler Shandro

To Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health:

In 2007, at the age of 18, I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease; ulcerative colitis to be exact.

A multi-sport athlete and healthy young man, I had no prior problems with my digestive tract. My diagnosis, and my IBD as a whole, was and is inexplicable because the actual cause of IBD is unknown.

In the eight years that followed, I went between multiple types of pills, including steroids, to try and get my body to a point where I could live a stable existence with a disease I never asked for.

In 2015, nothing short of a miracle happened. It came to me in the form of Remicade, a biologic medication I began receiving every eight weeks.

That year, I went through the most hellish of summers, not eating, and constantly in the bathroom in constant pain. I lost 30 pounds in a six-week span. All this led me to be in isolation, which in turn led to severe depression and anxiety, which in turn wore on my family.

Do you have any idea how it feels to be a grown adult who has to worry about incontinence? I do.

The miracle drug that is Remicade is the main reason I’m not still suffering four years later.

It took about four months of treatment and that beautiful drug pumping into my veins through an intravenous saved my life as I knew it. I was able to eat again, go out again, do my job properly again, be a good husband and father again, and control my bowels again.

Remicade allows me to live a stable and productive life free of most anxiety – because there’s no cure for my disease.

Not sure if you know this, but “similar” does not mean “the same.”

Also, doctors know what they’re talking about. Countless experts (doctors) have publicly stated that your ministry’s plan to forcibly switch patients on some biologics to biosimilars is not advisable.

You say it’ll save the province money, but never mind the fact that pharmaceutical Janssen Inc. has offered to lower its prices, do you not realize that the patients who do end up experiencing setbacks in their health are going to wind up back in the hospital?

Some patients are also going to need higher doses of the biosimilar than what they were getting of the biologic, thereby again raising costs. Will the province be reimbursing those who have a setback and have to miss work?

I can only presume when an idea like this is on the table is that your government cares about nothing but money.

It just doesn’t seem fathomable how you can see fit to put patients’ lives at risk. I don’t mean forcibly switching patients from biologics to biosimilars is going to kill anyone necessarily, but I do mean that it could kill off our ability to not live life like a shell of a human being.

I’d also like to call out your tweet from Nov. 13, which recognized Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month, in which you also noted that about 30,000 Albertans suffer from IBD. To be frank, it seems quite disingenuous for you to share such a tweet, and then days later announce you’re set to risk our well-being.But thanks, I guess.

I strongly urge you to reconsider your plan, for my sake and many others.

And by the way, while I hopefully have your attention, Red Deer needs a new hospital, stat!


Josh Hall

(For those against this plan, a patient-doctor choice rally is scheduled for 11:30-12:30 on Dec. 1 at the steps of the Alberta Legislature. You can also sign the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada petition here.)

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