A 26 year TTC employee has had to switch from using a medicinal cannabinoid product to using opioid medication to manage her pain from two herniated discs and fibromyalgia.
Ellaine Farrell, who is 59 years old, suffered the two herniated discs from her work as a TTC fare collector approximately 12 years ago. It was at that time that she was prescribed opioids as pain management for the affliction. Farrell says that unfortunately the opioids she was prescribed, which included Percocet and oxycodone, barely helped with the chronic pain she was experiencing and also caused her to feel like a “zombie”.
“I feel betrayed by my company, especially when there’s people making decisions on my life and they have never ever seen me face to face. Opioids are very, very addictive and I want to get off the opioids because it’s ruining my life.” said Farrell.
Farrell switched over to the medicinal cannabis after she started seeing Dr. Michael Verbora, who felt that CBD oil was the right choice for her issues as it can help with pain and inflammation. She was prescribed CBD oil with a 2% THC content. Ellaine advised the TTC about her medication change when this occurred, and says she was initially told by a disability case manager that she could use the oil on weekends and holidays.
“I advised the TTC that I was going to try it because I had a certain amount of vacation, and they said it was fine, then all of a sudden, I get this call saying, ‘You must stop everything now or you will have to go into a different position, which is not driving the subway anymore.’” Farrell said that not driving would mean being transferred into a different job, with her wages being cut in half.
The TTC had Farrell undergo a medical exam at their request, on Sept. 18th. Their medical examiner, Dr. Ilan Nachim advised that he did not have a problem with the low dose of THC in the oil. In fact, Dr. Nachim felt that the low dose of THC would have less “residual effects [then she] would be experiencing from the sleeping pills or Percocet”.
Part of Farrell’s exam was a urine drug test wherein her level of THC was found to be 46 ng/mL. Dr. Nachim advised “..due to the fact her urine test results are three times the cut-off level for THC…there is concern there is greater intake of THC than what was reported, and therefore, my medical opinion is that (she) is not able to function and work safely and unimpaired, in the safety sensitive position of subway operator due to the risk of acute and non-acute impairment.”
Farrell’s prescribing physician is in disagreement with Dr. Nachim and states the following in his letter to the TTC which they received in November of 2017: “Ellaine was using CBD, a medicine that is not cognitively impairing. There is no evidence the use of the CBD causes psychoactivity or is a danger when driving. You have now forced her to go back on opiates which are addictive, not helpful, worsening her mood and also cause cognitive impairment…in my professional opinion, she is being discriminated against.”
Frank Grimaldi, president of Local 113 of the amalgamated Transit Union stated that “the union has observed a pattern of discriminatory treatment by the TTC towards employees who require medical cannabis products,” and that “the TTC should follow the advice of employees’ doctors who know best how any given prescription affects a patient.” They have taken up Farrell’s case and may take it to arbitration.
Farrell is now back to taking opioids as long as it is not within eight hours of starting her shift, as per the TTC, so that she can keep her job as a subway operator.