Parliament passes bill that eases rules on narcotics used in palliative care

Experts say pain management in the country will change drastically for the better once the bill is enacted

By Kundan Pandey
Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015

Morphine, a derivative of opium, is the only analgesic known to relieve pain of terminally ill cancer patients. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons) The Rajya Sabha on Friday passed a legislation that will bring much-needed relief to terminally ill patients who need palliative care. It passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill which was passed by Lok Sabha a day ago.
Had Rajya Sabha not passed it, the bill would have lapsed along with the expiry of the present of Lok Sabha. Cancer experts have been urging 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.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2011 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 8, 2011 by Pranab Mukherjee, the then Union finance minister. Subsequently, it was referred to the parliamentary standing committee on Finance on September 13.
The bill amends the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985, which provides for confiscation of illegally traded narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.

The law denies cancer patients easy access to certain pain relievers like morphine. Provisions in the existing law also deters pharma companies from producing drugs containing narcotics.

Existing law makes people suffer avoidable pain

The National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, a document approved by the Union Cabinet on January 12, 2012, states that tens of thousands of patients in India suffer from avoidable pain because of the strict regulations.

The document says that India is home to one-sixth of world’s population, but it consumes only one-thousandth of the total morphine used in the world.

Experts have been highlighting that excessive regulations and cumbersome procedures in many states discourage doctors from prescribing and chemists from stocking narcotic drugs like morphine.

Ravindra Mohan, head of Knowledge Training Education Research with Cansupport, an organisation working in the field of palliative care, said that if the bill becomes the law, pain management in the country will change drastically. It will make the drugs for pain management available for the patients. It will be a big development in the field of cancer treatment.

In November, when a national cancer meet was organised in Delhi, Nagesh Simha, president of Indian Association of Palliative Care, said that not giving cancer patients the treatment they need is violation of their fundamental right. If the bill does not get the approval of Parliament now, it will lapse, he had said.

Global atlas of palliative care at the end of life

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