In India, a million people with cancer and an unknown number of people with other incurable and disabling diseases, need opioids for pain relief. Only about 0.4% of the population in need have access to them. Major barriers to access to opioids are complicated regulations and problems related to attitude and knowledge regarding pain relief and opioids among professionals and the public. The Pain and Policy Studies Group at Madison Wisconsin has been collaborating with many Indian palliative care workers and government officials to improve availability of opioids to those who need them for pain relief. As a result of this collaborative effort, the Government of India asked all state governments to modify the narcotic regulations following a model given to them. To facilitate the process, the collaboration has conducted workshops in 13 states in association with local champions.
Currently, 13 states in India and one union territory have simplified regulations, but opioid availability has improved only in a minority of these states. Establishment of simple standard operating procedures to implement the simplified regulations, advocacy, and improved education of professionals are essential for further improvement of the situation. The past decade has demonstrated that government policy can be changed if palliative care enthusiasts work in tandem with the government. The progress has been slow, but real and encouraging.