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The international politics of pain relief

10 5 2

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY – Last month, an Egyptian court sentenced Laura Plummer, a 33-year-old Briton, to three years in prison for smuggling 320 doses of tramadol into the country. Tramadol is a prescription opioid available in the United Kingdom for pain relief. It is banned in Egypt, where it is widely abused. Plummer said she was taking the drug to her Egyptian boyfriend, who suffers from chronic pain, and that she did not know she was breaking Egyptian law.

The British media have been full of sympathetic stories about Plummer’s plight, despite the fact that she was carrying a quantity in excess of that for which a British doctor can write a prescription. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Plummer’s conviction and sentence, however, the case illuminates an issue with much wider ramifications.

In October, the Lancet Commission on Palliative Care and Pain Relief issued an impressive report arguing that relieving severe pain is a “global health and equity imperative.” The commission is not the first to make such a claim, but its report brings together an abundance of evidence illustrating the seriousness of the problem. Each year 25.5 million people die in agony for lack of morphine or a similarly strong painkiller. Only 14 percent of the 40 million people requiring palliative care receive it.

The report begins with a doctor’s account of a man suffering agonizing pain from........

© The Japan Times