Hospitals told to use morphine as pain-killer for cancer patients

Waking up to the need for morphine in pain management of terminally ill cancer patients, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has decided to promote the use of the drug.

For the first time, the Ministry has sent instructions to all regional cancer centres, asking them to take steps "for popularising the use of morphine for medical purposes."

Taking up the issue, the Indian Society for Study of Pain (ISSP), the Indian chapter of the International forum, has decided to conduct basic courses across the country to sensitise doctors to the use of morphine.

Dr Anil Agarwal, Head of the Department of Anesthesia at SGPGI and past president of ISSP, said "The first of these training courses has already been conducted in Ludhiana and we are planning to conduct this course in Lucknow by the end of this month." Other cities earmarked for this course are Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Cuttack, Varanasi, Mysore, Indore and Nagpur.

Morphine is the cheapest analgesic available to manage the pain of the cancer patients. However, its availability in India is very limited because of the stringent narcotic laws and requirement of many licenses to stock the drug.

In an internal memorandum issued in January, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare observed that "while the average morphine consumption in the country should be around 900 kilograms per year, the actual consumption is around 120 kilograms only." The memorandum further mentions that after a meeting with the International Narcotics Control Board Mission, the government has agreed to take necessary steps to sensitise the health workers, doctors as well as pharmacists and chemists regarding the use of the drug.

Talking to The Indian Express about the government's initiative, ISSP president and professor at Tata Memorial Center, Mumbai, Dr PN Jain said: "This is the first time the government has recognised the need for sensitisation over morphine consumption and asked the regional cancer centres to create awareness for its prescription. In this regard, we have also decided to conduct first of its kind basic training courses for physicians regarding prescription of this drug for cancer patients."

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