The government plans to bring in changes to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act so as to make morphine easily available for use in patients. The move comes in the wake of concerns that due to stringent regulations, the narcotic pain reliever is not accessible to patients suffering from serious diseases like cancer and HIV.
“We will soon send our suggestions to the Department of Revenue for amendments to the Act, so that the procurement process is made easier for those needing morphine based drugs for treatment purpose,” a health ministry official told Business Standard.
Morphine sulphate is a by-product of opium and is used in painkillers for terminally ill patients suffering from cancer and HIV. India is one of the few countries that allow planting of poppy seeds, from which opium is derived. While the idea behind excessive regulations is to prevent misuse of the substance through drug abuse or illicit trafficking, the norms have resulted in severely constrained supplies of the drug in local hospitals and chemist shops.
“Morphine falls under Schedule X and therefore you need various licences to keep it including a special licence from local drug controller. Besides, chemists have to maintain duplicate copies of prescription when they sell it. No one wants to get into so much of hassle when the profits are very low,” saidC M Gulati, Editor, Monthly Index of Medical Specialities.
A source said there was a possibility that the government would reduce the number of required licences for manufacturing and selling morphine but only for pharmaceutical use.
According to the Drugs Controller of India (DCGI) G N Singh, the Health Ministry has no limitations for making the drug available for treatment. “We have no problems. We want them to simplify the process for those who are needy. It should be easily accessible for treatment. Changes to this effect will be made very soon,” he said.
Some experts also suggest that pharmaceutical companies are also not much willing to sell morphine as the margins are very low while the hassles are many. But, there are other drugs such as pethidine , tramadol and pentazocine available for prescription for pain relief.
“The other drugs can be given for various indications, whereas morphine is prescribed only in terminal cases,” Gulati said.
The health ministry is expected to send its comments to the Revenue Department in a few days to simplify the provisions in the NDPS Act to enable patients to access morphine.