In Many Countries, Difficulty in Accessing Opioid Painkillers Causes Suffering

As the United States tackles the challenge of opioid painkiller addiction, people in many parts of the world are suffering from pain because doctors are reluctant to prescribe opioids.

Opioids are restricted, and often unavailable, in most poor and middle-incomes countries, even for patients with AIDS, terminal cancer or serious war wounds, according to The New York Times.

Many doctors in Russia, India and Mexico are fearful they could be prosecuted or subject to other legal problems if they prescribe opioids, the article notes.

Health officials in Kenya recently authorized the production of morphine after it was revealed that the painkiller was only available in seven of the nation’s 250 public hospitals. The advocacy group Human Rights Watch reported earlier this year that only a small percentage of doctors in Morocco are allowed to prescribe opioid painkillers. The country’s law on controlled substances identifies opioids as poisons.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the lack of access to opioids in many countries. These include an absence of medical training, burdensome regulations and concern over illicit drug use. Some cultures expect people to endure pain without complaint. Some nations are fearful of prescription opioid abuse after seeing the problem’s escalation in the United States.

“We shouldn’t forget that these are medicines that are really essential in our health care systems,” said Diederik Lohman, Associate Director of the Health and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. “While clearly there are issues with some prescribing practices, there’s also clearly a risk to vilifying these medicines.”

He noted that in some countries, a person can be subject to a criminal inquiry for making a clerical error in a morphine prescription. “The fear associated with prescribing a medicine under strict scrutiny makes physicians afraid,” he said.