Cancer experts call for easing regulations on narcotic drugs

Morphine, a drug which can help ease cancer pain, is banned in India

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Tuesday 26 November 2013

Morphine, a derivative of opium, is the only analgesic known to relieve pain of terminally ill cancer patients. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)Cancer experts have urged the Indian government to ease regulations on narcotic drugs that are recommended for alleviating excruciating pain in cancer patients, especially those who are terminally ill and need palliative care. For this, they urged the government to pass the pending Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill so that hospitals in the country can procure morphine for terminally ill patients.

The experts were speaking at the Indian Cancer Congress organised in New Delhi last week. It is the first ever event held jointly by different associations working in the field of oncology and related subjects. 

According to a few experts, the existing law denies cancer patients easy access to certain pain killers and other medications which can reduce the pain. To support their arguments, the participants cited the National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, a document approved by the Union Cabinet on January 12, 2012. It states that tens of thousands of patients in India suffer from avoidable pain. India, which is home to one-sixth of world’s population, consumes only one-thousandth of total morphine used in the world, adds the document.

It also highlights “excessive regulations and cumbersome procedures” in many states, which discourage doctors from prescribing and chemists from stocking narcotic drugs like morphine.
At the conference, both the Indian Cancer Congress and the Indian Association of Palliative Care (IAPC) asserted that it is high time that the proposed amendments to the NDPS Act should be passed so that India’s cancer patients get better pain medication.

Morphine demand

Morphine, a derivative of opium, is the only analgesic known to relieve pain of terminally ill cancer patients. But India, despite being one of the largest producers of morphine in the world, has restricted its availability to its own people.

The policy document cited by the experts also highlights the recommendation made by International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an independent and quasi-judicial control organ for the implementation of the United Nations drug conventions. The international body had suggested that the whole world needs to improve availability of opioid analgesics for medical use and India needs to simplify its existing NDPS rules.

Nagesh Simha, president of IAPC, said that not giving cancer patients the treatment they need is violation of their fundamental right.  “It has taken the Bill 15 years to reach where it is now. It was listed six to seven times in the last Parliament session but could not be passed due to one problem or the other. If the Bill does not get the approval of the Parliament in coming winter session, it will lapse,” said Sinha. The expert added that the politicians should join hands to speed up the process of passing of the Bill and help thousands of suffering patients.


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