For well over a century, morphine has been the most effective form of pain relief. Unlike other painkillers, which have an upper limit to their pain prevention level, morphine blocks more pain as the dosage increases. Morphine has a multitude of effective uses from patients that have undergone serious surgeries, to reducing the pain of terminally ill patients allowing for comfort – when comfort otherwise would not be possible.
Although morphine is the best opioid for averting pain, it’s far from perfect – causing a multitude of side effects varying from patient to patient. Side effects range from mild symptoms of headaches and sweating, to more unpleasant nausea and constipation. However, the most notable concern of morphine use is potential addiction – leading to fatal overdosing. Morphine stimulates key reward areas in the brain that in turn increase dopamine levels – similar to the effects of cocaine – so monitoring dosage is important.
Though the thought of undergoing serious surgery without the use of pain relief is a thought not worth considering in developed countries, the reality is that 83% of the world’s population have little or no access to opioids such as morphine. This includes 5.5 million terminally ill cancer patients, 1 million end-stage HIV/AIDS patients, and 800,000 patients suffering from injuries caused by accidents and violence – a sobering thought to anyone who has ever relied on morphine to reduce severe pain.
With morphine offering such a reliable method of pain relief, why are so many people in need still unable to receive it? The poor availability of pain treatment is perplexing, especially when we take into consideration the low cost of production and the safe and effective methods of administering it. There are numerous reasons for the red tape, one of which is caused by the international legislation governing supply and distribution systems for morphine and other related opioids. This is coupled with fears that medical morphine may be used for illicit purposes, i.e. narcotics trade and trafficking, are key factors hindering the availability of adequate pain treatment in developing countries across the world.
The need for morphine is real. If persistent pain goes unmanaged a person’s ability to eat, sleep or concentrate can be interfered with, their immune system compromised and their mobility reduced. Painkillers are also a vital component of treatment in terminally ill cases and palliative care – treatments where there is no curative intent. Without medication such as morphine, people are left to die slow deaths in agony, with some wanting to die rather than carry on living with the pain.
As it stands, 89% of the total world consumption of morphine occurs in North America and Europe, with only 6% consumed by low and middle-income countries. It’s clear something must be done to increase the availability of morphine on a global scale. Organisations must take action and move to an outcome-based model to address this inequality – bringing pain relief to the people who need it most.
For more information on the importance and availability of morphine around the world, and what the future holds, be sure to check out Work the World’s full infographic ‘A World Without Morphine’ below.