Access to Morphine

Mamadou, a terminal cancer patient in severe pain whom we visited in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso in December 2019

Severe pain, such as terminal cancer pain, can often be relieved with inexpensive, easily produced morphine and other opioids. Unfortunately, most people live in countries where morphine is not readily available, as documented in a major Lancet Commission report, even though morphine is on the WHO’s Essential Medicines list.

The main causes are governments’ unfounded fears of dependence and of diversion to the black market. This is now also an issue affecting the US as a result of the authorities’ drastic response to the opioid crisis.

Some additional links of interest:

  • How a local champion can bring the government on board“, an article we wrote for the bulletin of Swiss health network Medicus Mundi, based on our experience in Burkina Faso. Prof. Felicia Knaul, Chair of the Lancet Commission on Global Access to Palliative Care and Pain Control, called this article an “important read on how to close the global pain divide at the national level.”
  • The other opioid crisis” – an article in New Humanist magazine citing OPIS’s work. “While all the attention is on western drug misuse, 80 per cent of the world’s population goes without sufficient pain relief treatment.”
  • Why access to morphine is a human right” by Jonathan Leighton, Executive Director of OPIS
  • “Problèmes d’accès aux antidouleurs à base de morphine, considérés comme des drogues”: a reportage in French on Swiss public radio (21 March 2019) on the problem of access to morphine, including an interview with Jonathan Leighton that took place during the 62nd session of the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna