Roughly 26 million die suffering every year due to a major gap in access to morphine and other opioids, a new report shows.
The study, conducted by The Lancet Commission on Global Access to Palliative Care and Pain Relief, found that the needs for pain management and palliative care remain unmet in many developing nations.
The report — chaired by the University of Miami’s Felicia Knaul, a professor at the Department of Public Health Sciences, and co-authored by UM President Julio Frenk — found that millions around the world die in deep agony because they don’t have access to something as affordable as a three-cent morphine tablet that could easily alleviate their pain.
Though the United States has easy access to opioid painkillers, they're extremely rare or completely unavailable in dozens of poor countries, leaving many suffering from conditions like cancer, HIV and major trauma with chronic unnecessary pain during their final days of life.
The challenge? Improving palliative care in poverty-ridden countries while avoiding moves that can lead the U.S. into yet another addiction crisis. The report says one solution to easing the critical health emergency could be using off-patent morphine that costs pennies a dose —a move that wouldn’t be profitable for drug companies that push pricier opioids in developed countries.
According to Knaul, in some places, even children dying of cancer or children in treatment for cancer can't get pain relief. Knaul spent three years studying the disparity. About 25.5 million adults and 2.5 million children are among those who die without adequate relief.
An additional 35.5 million people live with unmanaged chronic pain conditions.
Researchers reported that out of the few hundred tons of morphine and opioids distributed around the world, less than 4 percent goes to low- and middle-income countries. In Afghanistan, India and Nigeria, for example, less than 5 percent of pain management needs are met, according to the report.