By Helen Redmond – Substance.com –
Millions of people worldwide endure traumatic injuries or deaths from cancer, AIDS and now, Ebola without access to the medication that could relieve their suffering. The international drug control system is to blame.
Ever broken a bone? Recovered from a major surgery? Do you live with chronic pain? If so, you understand on a visceral level that access to opioids like morphine to manage pain is critical. Opioids are necessary to perform surgery, make recovery from traumatic injuries possible and can grant terminally ill people a peaceful death.
“Lack of access to essential medicines such as morphine or methadone for treatment violates the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which is one of the human rights conventions that all countries in the world have signed on to,” says Dr. Katherine Pettus, an advocacy officer for the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care. “It also violates the right to be free from torture and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.”
….Rich nations have access to a wide variety of opioids, from Tylenol with codeine to morphine tablets to fentanyl patches and lollipops. Just four countries—the US, Canada, the UK and Australia—consume an astonishing 68% of the opioids produced by the pharmaceutical industry. Low- and middle-income countries together account for just 7% of global use.
The US and Canada, as Felicia M. Knaul, director of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative, has noted, consume nearly 300,000 milligrams of opioids per pain-affected death from HIV/AIDS and cancer. People who die of these causes in China (less than 1,300 mg per death), India (720 mg) Mexico (2,350 mg) Uganda (450 mg) or Haiti (47 mg) likely suffer a great deal more.
Put even more starkly, opioids are virtually unavailable in over 150 countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this leaves over 5.5 billion people—83% of the world’s population—with little or no access. They estimate that therefore each year a staggering 5.5 million terminally ill cancer patients and 1 million patients in the end stage of HIV/AIDS are denied pain relief.
Opioids are on the WHO list of essential medicines for human health and well-being. Moreover, the drugs are inexpensive—just pennies per dose—and easy to administer. Crucially, most preparations are not under patent protection. So why do these disparities in access continue?
….The most significant barrier to equality is the international drug control system, led by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).
Drug war propaganda promotes two myths about opioids: that they are always dangerous and instantly addictive. The exaggeration of the effects of opioids combined with “zero tolerance” spills over into the use of the drugs in medical settings. Widespread “opioidphobia” affects physicians and even patients who would benefit from taking narcotics. Pain is political….
The War on Drugs has not only failed to prevent illicit drug use, but has also prevented the provision of legal narcotics to millions of people who are suffering from both curable and terminal illnesses. It is well past time to end this atrocity.