N.S. man angry after Lyme disease medications seized at border
Published Friday, June 23, 2017 9:09AM EDT
A Nova Scotia man being treated for Lyme disease in the U.S. is angry that his medications were seized at the border, saying the drugs are saving his life.
Donnie Blenus was diagnosed with Lyme disease last year but believes he was infected with the tick-borne illness more than three years ago.
He says he became progressively more ill each year that went by without a diagnosis and feared he was going to die.
Blenus's friend, Archie Lockhart, recognized his friend’s symptoms because he, too, had suffered from Lyme disease. He says the infection caused vision and hearing problems, and intense joint pain, but now feels about “80 per cent better” after seeking treatment in the U.S.
Lockhart suggested Blenus go to his doctor in Maine to be tested for Lyme disease too.
The tests came back positive and the doctor suggested Blenus begin an intense treatment of several kinds of antibiotics, malaria medications, and vitamins. Within days, Blenus says, his health improved.
One year later, he is still seeing the doctor for treatment. Every three months, he travels to Maine, spending nine hours in the car each way, to pay close to $2,500 out-of-pocket for the medications.
But two days ago, he was stopped at the Canadian border and his drugs were seized. Blenus was told that because the individual drugs he takes are available for sale in Canada, he needs to purchase them here.
Blenus' drugs are available for sale in Canada, but doctors here do not prescribe them as a treatment for Lyme disease, nor in the quantities his American doctor prescribes them.
Blenus believes the drugs are saving his life and doesn’t understand why border guards took them.
“I informed them that if I didn't have my medication, I would probably die. And they said that was the law. And they took it,” he told CTV Atlantic between tears.
In Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s position is that most cases of Lyme disease can be effectively treated with two to four weeks of antibiotics, though some may need a longer course of treatment.
But in some patients -- particularly in those whose infection go undiagnosed for a long time -- the infection can lead to lingering and neurological and joint pain symptoms even after treatment.
PHAC's position is “there is no definitive evidence that persistent symptoms represent ongoing infection” and thus ongoing antibiotic treatment will not be effective in lingering effects of the infection.
John Lohr, the MLA for Kings North and a personal friend of Blenus, says the seizure of the medications at the border is a federal matter. But he would like to see Nova Scotia change its approach to treating Lyme.
“We need to duplicate what the U.S. doctors are doing,” he told CTV Atlantic.
Last month, Health Minister Jane Philpott announced a $4-million investment to create a new research framework to better understand Lyme disease and how best to treat it.
The money would go into researching better testing methods, better treatments, and to increase Canadians' awareness of the disease.
With a report from CTV Atlantic’s Emily Baron Cadloff