How Widely Available Is Morphine In The World?

By Keri Blakinger 10/29/15

Global Commission on Drug Policy released a report last week detailing the lack of access to painkillers across the globe.

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Ninety-two percent of the world’s morphine is taken by just 17% of the world’s population.

That was just one of the conclusions of the Global Commission on Drug Policy’s report released last week at the 24th International Harm Reduction Conference, held in Malaysia.

Global access to painkillers is spotty and largely concentrated in the northern half of the globe. Three-quarters of the world’s population has no relief to painkillers, even in late stages of cancer and during acute pain.

Surprisingly, the biggest barrier to broader access is not cost or lack of supply, but drug policy.

“Under current drug control policies, African access to essential medication for pain management is highly restricted," said GCDP member and former UN Secretary Kofi Annan said in a press release. " We know that 90% of morphine is prescribed in North America and Europe. In many developing countries, patients with terminal cancer suffer needlessly because doctors cannot prescribe medication due to the misapplication or misunderstanding of the UN drug conventions. But we must make sure that access to the essential medicines on the WHO model lists does not become a casualty of the War on Drugs.”

The GCDP report offered a number of recommendations to improve drug access, including a review of the 1961 and 1971 drug conventions’ schedules, the expansion of treatment availability for opioid dependence, and the acknowledgement that nations have an obligation to facilitate equitable access to medicines for their populations.

Although the Harm Reduction Conference offered one international forum for drug policy discussions, another important forum is coming up in about six months. In April, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs will take place in New York, and GCDP members have already expressed high hopes for its outcomes.

“Countries have a responsibility to ensure access to controlled essential medicines. The technical, medical and scientific tools exist, but there is a need for political will to end this avoidable pain,” said GCDP member and former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss. “The UNGASS provides a key opportunity where Member States can agree that ensuring access to essential medicines is a priority and provide the proper resources and power to the World Health Organization to make it possible.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.