The USA ‘opioid crisis’ is a well-documented public health disaster and a human tragedy, (0) with complex causes and dramatic consequences on population health, both in terms of morbidity and mortality. A recent report by two members of the US Congress (1) may unexpectedly have contributed to worsen another (global) crisis, as the World Health Organization (WHO) has withdrawn two guidelines on the prescription of opioids for people with severe illnesses and palliative care needs.  This may result in many patients in dire need of opioids for pain relief no longer being able to access these medications.

In 2005, the World Health Assembly instructed the WHO Secretariat to work on better access to opioid analgesics through resolution WHA 58.22 on Cancer prevention and control. Around the same time, the UN Economic and Social Council made a similar request to WHO (Resolution ECOSOC 2005/25 on Treatment of pain using opioid analgesics). The WHO responded with the establishment of the Access to Controlled Medications Programme. Part of the programme’s activities aimed to provide guidance for better public-health policies and better pain treatment.