Morphine shortage hits Kolkata cancer patients

Kolkata, Nov 27 ( Hundreds of cancer patients have been hard hit by an acute shortage of morphine in Kolkata, which records 12,000 new cases of the disease every year. Poor patients are the worst affected as they cannot afford alternative pain relief drugs.

“Morphine is most effective for pain management in cancer patients. It is very difficult for poor patients to afford alternative drugs,” Ashish Mukherjee, medical director of the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Cancer Research Institute, told Inditop.

“Earlier, we used to procure morphine from the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI). The institute was selected as the nodal agent to distribute the pain-relieving drug to other cancer institutes. But we don’t get it from them any more.”

A source claimed the World Health Organisation (WHO) had stopped supplying morphine to CNCI in 2006 after it found some anomalies.

West Bengal registers nearly 75,000 fresh cancer cases every year, of which Kolkata alone accounts for 12,000.

“Almost 50 percent of this figure comprises patients who are in an advanced stage. It becomes difficult for us to reduce their pain, which is one of the major manifestations of cancer,” Mukherjee said.

He said in all there are three morphine distribution centres across Kolkata.

“But a couple of them are loathe to stocking this medicine owing to the elephantine paper work. They have to record the entire utilisation process and prepare distribution certificates. They also need to submit it to the authorities of WHO on time.

“The distributors find it very cumbersome and generally don’t stock the medicine, inconveniencing the patients’ families,” Mukherjee claimed.

CNCI director Jaydip Biswas said his institute was working on renewing the licence to stock morphine. “We held a meeting Tuesday and decided to renew our licence to stock morphine at CNCI which is the regional cancer centre.

“The supply of morphine is very low as no distributor is interested in stocking it. But the demand for morphine in Kolkata is huge,” he said.

Biswas said almost 30 percent of the 12,000 fresh cancer patients every year reach the terminal stage which is when they require morphine.

“We can stock a maximum of 10,000 morphine tablets in a month with which we can provide treatment to only 50-100 patients. The shortage of morphine is huge and it cannot be quantified, Kajal Gomes, a stockist, told Inditop.

“I think there are hardly three stockists in Kolkata who supply morphine to cancer patients in the city. The Thakurpukur Cancer Hospital also has the licence but it procures and supplies only to its own patients,” said Gomes.

He said there might be a number of medicine stores that obtain the required licence but they don’t stock morphine considering the stringent excise norms and low profit margins.

“The situation would have been far better if there were some more stockists,” Gomes said.