China Comes to Grips With Opi­oids

Health ▶ The painkillers work, but the Chi­nese worry about ad­dic­tion ▶ Af­ter a drug bot­tle broke, “we ... each had to write a self-crit­i­cism”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Global Economics -

More than most coun­tries, China has good rea­son to be wary of opi­oids, syn­thetic drugs like Oxy­con­tin that share opium’s power to sup­press pain. In the 19th cen­tury the na­tion lost two wars to the Bri­tish in a fu­tile at­tempt to keep opium out of the coun­try. Af­ter the de­feats, part of what the Chi­nese call their cen­tury of hu­mil­i­a­tion, millions of peo­ple be­came addicted to the drug: In the early 1900s more than 25 per­cent of Chi­nese men used opium reg­u­larly. One of the gov­ern­ment’s proud­est achieve­ments af­ter the com­mu­nists took power in 1949 was wip­ing out “the scourge of opium,” as China’s State Coun­cil put it. Partly out of that his­toric sen­si­tiv­ity, China today re­stricts the use of opi­oids far more tightly than the U.S. and other West­ern coun­tries.

China’s aver­sion to opi­oids is part of a global puz­zle: How do hos­pi­tals, health min­istries, and pharma com­pa­nies use these pow­er­ful painkillers ef­fec­tively with­out lay­ing the ground­work for se­ri­ous abuse and ad­dic­tion? No­body has the an­swer. In­stead the world’s use of opi­oids is se­ri­ously lop­sided, as the

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