Sumita was a young, single, working woman in her thirties with a zest for life. And even after getting diagnosed with colorectal cancer, she didn’t let the disease and the unbearable pain it brought along, defeat this zest. While she was prescribed with oral morphine during the latter stages of her cancer, she had to travel a considerable distance and wait on uncomfortable benches for hours to get her pain medication. Her parting words to Dr. Harmala were, “Do not ever let anyone suffer unnecessary pain. For this is how cancer wins”. Despite everything she has to endure, Dr Harmala calls Sumita a fortunate one because she’s well aware of the fact that in India only 0.4% of the patients who require pain relieving medication get access to it. While others have to spend their final days suffering with excruciating pain.
There are various factors that contribute to this scarce availability of opioid drugs. Firstly, the precautionary laws created to prevent abuse of opioid drugs make access difficult, even for the patients in need. The availability of oral morphine is limited to a few government hospitals and is only prescribed for a fortnight at a stretch. Due to mandatories like these, family members often have to travel across towns and cities regularly to attain the drugs. Secondly, the usage of opioids accompanies a lot of myths and prejudices. While it has been scientifically proven that medical dosage of oral morphine does not cause addiction, patients and doctors often believe otherwise.
While this difficulty in availing accurate pain medication, advice and care is a major part of the problem, another significant reason is the lack of conversation among the patient, family and the doctor. Often the family carries on with futile treatments because the chances of survival are not revealed by the doctors clearly. This causes the family a financial set back, and the patient a considerable amount of pain and stress. Hence, the doctors must disclose the exact possibility of recovering and give the family suitable advice about continuing to invest in treatment.
With only 0.4% of people receiving pain relieving opioid drugs, there is an urgent need for trained and sensitized doctors to deal with such cases. By providing the patients and the family with essential care and pain management, we can significantly improve the quality of the final days for thousands of people who spend this time suffering.
Image for representation purposes.