Health experts have expressed concern with over-prescription of opioids, a situation they fear may escalate to a crisis level.
Medical Aid Society of Malawi (Masm), Society of Medical Doctors (SMD) and a public health expert have since called for prescription that aligns with the best interests of patients.
Opioids alleviate severe pain but their misuse can result in addiction, overdoses and severe health consequences.
Codeine found in stopayne and cough syrup, tramadol, morphine and oxycodone are examples of opioids while other categories of drugs of abuse include diazepam, propofol, fentanyl and dextromethorphan.
Masm chief executive officer Dr Ulemu Katunga said in a circular dated October 24 2023 addressed to service providers that the situation mirrors global trends where in other countries it has transitioned into crisis levels.
He said: “While this issue may not be as widespread in Malawi as it is in some western countries, Masm usage statistics is showing evidence of this shocking trend and it is essential to act proactively to prevent it from becoming a significant problem here.”
Katunga said in view of the emerging challenge, Masm has instituted several measures to promote responsible prescription and safeguard the well-being of its members.
He added that Masm has established systems for monitoring opioid prescriptions and they will be approaching individuals and hospitals with such data to inform them of such anomalies on certain patients.
Katunga said such irrational quantities of opioids being prescribed by some practitioners will not go unreported to the Medical Council of Malawi that perceives over-prescription as negligence.
In a separate interview on Friday, SMD spokesperson Dr Zaziwe Gunda said pharmacies, medical practitioners, clinics and hospitals have a role to play in curbing opioids abuse.
He said the service providers must strive to emulate the stance taken by Masm as regards addressing the emerging challenge.
“Long-term effects of opioids and complications are mental health problems, risk of infection and fractures, insomnia, dependence on opiods, sexual dysfunction, overdose and death.
“To completely stop, these people hooked on opiods need to realise that this is a problem and they need to be helped. Those around them, family and friends need to start talking and encouraging them to seek help from mental health experts,” he said.
Gunda said the country has many mental health experts who can help individuals struggling with such addiction.
Kamuzu University of Health Sciences public health expert Adamson Muula said the issue has been handled with kid gloves for a long-time.
The epidemiology professor argued that the recent interest on the matter has come about due to financial considerations.
He said: “The health insurance companies are bleeding financially and that bothers them. The behaviour affects how much profits they can make.
“Opiods abuse is a leading cause of death in the United States. It appears Malawi has joined the bandwagon. This should have been expected and now hundreds of people are addicted, and for some, permanently.”