ImagePharmaceutical companies should consider cutting the price of powerful painkillers like morphine to make them more affordable for poor nations, the International Narcotics Control Board said Thursday.

Pain relief is big business for companies like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Boehringer Ingelheim GmBH, GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK.LN) and Johnson Matthey PLC's (JMAT.LN) subsidiary Mcfarlan Smith, but the INCB said access to opioid analgesics like codeine and morphine is virtually nonexistent in more than 150 countries.

Professor Hamid Ghodse, president of the Vienna-based body, which is charged with monitoring countries' compliance with United Nations drug control conventions, said governments should approach pharmaceutical companies about cutting their prices to boost access.

Drug makers "could be helpful if the price comes down," Ghodse told reporters earlier this week ahead of the publication of the INCB's annual report Thursday.

However, the INCB said cost wasn't the main reason why almost 90% of the world's opioid painkillers are consumed by patients in Europe and North America but hardly used at all in the world's poorest nations. The INCB found reluctance to prescribe the drugs because of addiction worries was the biggest obstacle, and said better education for doctors and nurses about the use of opioids is needed.

In its 2009 report, published Thursday to mark the centenary of the 1909 International Opium Commission meeting in Shanghai that ushered in the era of international drug control, the INCB added the rise of Internet pharmacies dispensing powerful controlled drugs without a prescription is alarming. Such Web sites promote drug abuse among vulnerable groups, especially young people, it said.

Professor Ghodse added the INCB is also worried what effect the global economic downturn might have on drug use worldwide. He said there are two schools of thought: that consumption will decrease because casual users will have less money to spend, or that it will rise because people turn to drugs in desperation after losing their jobs or homes.