March 2, 2011 / 10:09 AM / in 9 years

U.N. drugs board decries poor access to pain relief

LONDON (Reuters) - More than 80 percent of the world’s people have insufficient or no access to pain relief drugs and are suffering unnecessarily because of it, the United Nations global drugs watchdog said Wednesday.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said in a report that many countries in Africa, Asia and parts of the Americas had very little or no access to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for medical purposes.

“Ninety percent of the licit drugs are consumed by 10 percent of the world’s population in the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and some European countries,” Hamid Ghodse, the INCB’s president, told a briefing.

Narcotic drugs such as morphine, fantanyl and oxycodone and opioid analgesics and are often used in the treatment of patients with illnesses such as cancer and AIDS who can suffer severe pain as their diseases advance.

Psychotropic medicines such as antidepressants, antipsychotics and depressants are used as anesthetics and in mental and emotional disorders.

“It has to be recognized that the availability of narcotics and psychotropic medicines is indispensible to medical practice,” Ghodse told reporters.

The report found that although there is plenty of raw material available to meet all medical needs for opioid analgesics, significant obstacles often block their path to patients who desperately need them.

The barriers include lack of education among doctors and other healthcare workers, regulatory constraints, distribution problems and the absence of health policies that include pain treatment, it said.

Opiate raw materials include opium, poppy straw and concentrate of poppy straw, and according to the report, global production in 2010 comfortably outstripped consumption.

“There is no problem whatsoever with the availability of raw materials,” Ghodse said.

He urged governments to identify the barriers to adequate availability and take action. The report’s recommendations call for the collection of statistical data on licit drug requirements, legislation, education and training, national control systems, and steps to combat drug abuse.

The INCB noted that while the lack of availability of controlled medicines can deprive patients in some parts of the world of relief from pain, excessive availability can lead to abuse and drug dependence in other regions.

“In countries with excessive availability, the non-medical use of pain relievers, tranquillizers, stimulants or sedatives has become the fastest growing drug problem,” the report said.

Last year the INCB warned in its annual report that abuse of prescription drugs was rising rapidly around the world, with more people abusing legal narcotics than heroin, cocaine and ecstasy combined.

Editing by Diana Abdallah

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