New Scientist

Drug laws are painful for cancer patients
New Scientist

Overzealous regulation of opioids is having a painful knock-on effect on eastern Europeans with cancer.

« There are literally tens of thousands of people who are suffering unnecessarily, » says lead author Nathan Cherny of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel.

Opioid-type drugs are potent painkillers. In fact, the World Health Organization lists two of them, codeine and morphine, as « essential medicines » that should be available worldwide.

Cherny and his colleagues asked cancer pain specialists, including doctors, nurses and social workers from 40 European countries plus Israel, to review access to opioids in their countries.

They found that tens of thousands of cancer patients in several former Soviet bloc countries can’t easily get the drugs because of laws aimed at preventing a black market in opioids. In Ukraine, for example, patients are only allowed a day’s supply of medicine at a time, while in Georgia they must get a stamp from a police station to obtain painkillers.