May 01, 2015

Hospice Pain

A spate of suicides in Russia by terminally ill cancer patients has made end of life care a major topic of public discussion. Eleven such suicides were reported in Moscow in the first three months of this year, most attributed to excruciating pain, despite the fact that the capital accounts for 40 percent of all painkiller “consumption” in the country.

The difficult ordeal of securing opiates to ease patients’ cancer pain was the subject of government meetings and outraged editorials. Getting needed pills can require waiting in line for hours – first at one’s local clinic, then at a specialized cancer facility (often on the other side of town). The prescription is only valid for a few days, so if the drugstore in one’s area does not have that specific medication, it means repeating the ordeal all over again, all within the bounds of the nine-to-five workday.

Needless to say, getting pain relief during long holiday stretches, like the 12-day marathon in early January, is impossible. The process has long been criticized as inhumane, and doctors writing prescriptions find themselves in a bind, often refusing to prescribe something strong, like morphine, for fear they will be charged with dealing drugs.

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