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Oct 13, 2011 at 09:57am IST

Painful cancer deaths due to less awareness

CHENNAI: India produces 97 per cent of legal morphine globally, but only three per cent is used by over one million Indians, who endure cancer pain and die agonising and undignified deaths due to lack of awareness, according to the Cancer Institute Chennai.
E Vidhubala, Assistant Professor and Principal Investigator, Department of Psycho-oncology and Tobacco Cessation Centre, Cancer Institute (WIA), told Express that India had been strongly criticised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for failing to incorporate adequate pain management into its palliative care programmes.
Ruing the fact that the state had only 25 licence holders, Vidhubala said that there was a need for more licence holders in the state to access morphine. She said to address the issue of lack of morphine in the state, the Cancer institute was organising an orientation and consultation meeting on enhancing morphine utilisation on Wednesday.
Despite India’s heavy cancer burden, the country consumed far less morphine than most other countries. “The country supplies much of the opium to make morphine for increasing use in the rest of the world, but it produces very little for domestic use due to lack of demand,” she rued.
While the average morphine consumption in the country should be 900 kgs, the current consumption was only a meagre 120 kgs, according to the International Narcotics Control Board. “While morphine consumption is increasing in most of the world, in India, morphine consumption has decreased. India was using 0.395 mg/capita in 1984, reduced to 0.095 mg/capita in 2009,” she added.
The WHO strongly recommends morphine as the opioid of choice for excruciating pain often suffered by terminally ill cancer patients, AIDS and other progressive life threatening illnesses.
“In palliative care and hospice, morphine is most often considered the “gold standard” of pain medications. It does a good job of treating pain in most patients and is usually well-tolerated and cost-effective. Morphine is also effective in treating dyspnea or shortness of breath,” she added.