By Gabriela B. de Luca
In September 2008, the mother of a cervical cancer patient in Cali, Colombia, placed a classified ad in the newspaper El País. In it, her daughter pleaded for help: “Pain is killing me because for several days I have been unable to find injectable morphine in any place. Please, Mr. Secretary of Health, do not make us suffer any more.”
The woman in Cali was not alone. Onerous restrictions on opioid analgesics like morphine, the gold standard medication for severe pain, meant that many pharmacies in Colombia simply avoided stocking it, and patients routinely struggled to obtain the medicine their doctors prescribed.
Although Colombia passed model legislation on palliative care in 2014 and some of the restrictions have been lifted, the barriers to access remain high—because decades of drug policy have prioritized strict control of opioids and failed to provide for their use as essential medicines for people in need of palliative care.
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Thumbnail: Flickr CC frankieleon