Background: The supply of controlled drugs is limited in the Far East, despite the prevalence of health disorders that warrant their prescription. Reasons for this include strict regulatory frameworks, limited financial resources, lack of appropriate training amongst the medical profession and fear of addiction in both general practitioners and the wider population. Consequently, the weak opioid tramadol has become the analgesic most frequently used in the region to treat moderate to severe pain. Methods: To obtain a clearer picture of the current role and clinical use of tramadol in Southeast Asia, pain specialists from 7 countries in the region were invited to participate in a survey, using a questionnaire to gather information about their individual use and experience of this analgesic. Results: Fifteen completed questionnaires were returned and the responses analyzed. Tramadol is used to manage acute and chronic pain caused by a wide range of conditions. Almost all the specialists treat moderate cancer pain with tramadol, and every one considers it to be significant or highly significant in the treatment of moderate to severe non-cancer pain. The reasons for choosing tramadol include efficacy, safety and tolerability, ready availability, reasonable cost, multiple formulations and patient compliance. Its safety profile makes tramadol particularly appropriate for use in elderly patients, outpatients, and for long-term treatment. The respondents strongly agreed that tighter regulation of tramadol would reduce its medical availability and adversely affect the quality of pain management. In some countries, there would no longer be any appropriate medication for cancer pain or the long-term treatment of chronic pain. Conclusions: In Southeast Asia, tramadol plays an important part in the pharmacological management of moderate to severe pain, and may be the only available treatment option. If it were to become a controlled substance, the standard of pain management in the region would decline.
- Controlled substance