A Toronto Transit Commission employee says she’s back on opioids because her employer told her she can’t use medical marijuana and remain as a subway operator, even though her doctor thinks cannabis is the best treatment for her chronic pain.
Ellaine Farrell, 59, has suffered from two herniated discs in her lower back and fibromyalgia, a condition that causes widespread pain. She said the TTC offered her other non-safety-sensitive positions if she wanted to stay on medicinal cannabis, but they would come with a big pay cut.
“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,” Farrell, a 26-year TTC employee, told CBC Toronto.
“Even their doctor, who’s supposed to be doing all their decisions, has never seen me face to face and they’re going against my doctors? They’re going against a specialist? Really, honestly, it’s so wrong.
Farrell said she’s now taking opioids, including percocet and oxycodone, but her doctor said they are less effective. Farrell also said they cause her to be groggy, forgetful and feel like a “zombie.”
To continue operating a subway train, she must not take the opioid medications within eight hours of starting her shift, she said she was told by the TTC.
“Opioids are very, very addictive, and I want to get off the opioids because it’s ruining my life,” said Farrell.
“There’s times I’m in such a rage or such agony, I’m just like, ‘Don’t touch me, leave me alone’ and [the TTC doesn’t] seem to understand that. It’s just the education. Get educated!”
‘Safe public transit system’ a priority, TTC says
The TTC said an independent medical expert has advised the transit agency not to allow any employee in a safety-sensitive position, like Farrell, to use any form of cannabis because they could get intoxicated.
“Whether it’s for medical needs or for recreational, we have an obligation to this city to have a safe public transit system,” said Brad Ross, the TTC’s head of corporate communications.
“This isn’t about cannabis. This is about any medication that could potentially impair, and that’s not a chance we’re prepared to take.”
Farrell said she suffered two herniated discs about 12 years ago when she was a TTC fare collector, and then began taking opioids.
However, she said, they barely made a dent in her chronic pain.
In April 2017, she first started seeing Dr. Michael Verbora, who prescribed her CBD oil, a derivative of cannabis, for pain and inflammation. She informed the TTC and at first she was allowed to take it, but was told not to use it close to her shift.
“After three days [on the oil] I could not believe the difference, I was just like, ‘Wow, this is a miracle,'” said Farrell.
“I had not felt this good in 15 years … The inflammation in my joints was gone. I could walk better, move better. I slept better. So I went from taking so many medications to just taking one.”