Amendments to Drug Act Simplify Access to Pain Medicines | Healthcare in India |

Millions of Indians suffering chronic pain will get better access to pain medicines following changes in India’s drug law, Human Rights Watch said today. On February 21, 2014, the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, approved amendments to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (the Drug Act) that  the lower house had approved a day earlier.

The amendments eliminate archaic rules that obligated hospitals and pharmacies to obtain four or five licenses, each from a different government agency, every time they wanted to purchase strong pain medicines. As Human Rights Watch documented in a 2009 report, “Unbearable Pain: India's Obligation to Ensure Palliative Care,” this resulted in the virtual disappearance of morphine, an essential medicine for strong pain, from Indian hospitals, including from most specialized cancer centers.

“The revised Drug Act is very good news for people with pain in India,” said Diederik Lohman, senior health researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These changes will help spare millions of people the indignity of suffering needlessly from severe pain.”

Patients who experience severe pain without access to adequate treatment face enormous suffering. Like victims of torture, these patients have often told Human Rights Watch that the pain was intolerable and that they would do anything to make it stop. Many said that they saw death as the only way out and some said they had become suicidal.

The amendments to the Drug Act give the central government authority to regulate so-called “narcotic drugs,” require a single license to procure morphine and other strong opioid medications, and charge one government agency, the state drug controller, with enforcement. The government introduced the amendments to the Drug Act in 2012.

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