Ask the Expert – Dispelling myths about morphine

My doctor suggested morphine to ease some of the pain I am experiencing with my life-limiting illness. I am afraid of morphine because I have heard that it speeds death?

Morphine is a powerful analgesic that is used to relieve pain. It acts directly on the central nervous system (CNS) to decrease the feeling of pain. It can be used for both acute and chronic pain.

Many people worry about the use of morphine. Morphine and other medications in the morphine family, such as hydromorphone, codeine and fentanyl, are called opioids. People worry that opioids will speed the dying process or they will become addicted.

Morphine is sometimes used when a person is in the advanced stages of illness, and his or her overall condition is declining. If the person is experiencing moderate to severe pain or shortness of breath, his or her doctor will often prescribe morphine. This opioid helps maintain the person’s comfort throughout the illness and up to the time of death. The person declines because of the illness with or without the morphine.

There is no evidence that opioids such as morphine hasten the dying process when a person receives the right dose to control the symptoms he or she is experiencing. Research suggest that using opioids to treat pain or shortness of breath near the end of life may help a person live a bit longer. Pain and shortness of breath are exhausting and significantly impact the person’s quality of life.

If a person has never received morphine, the initial doses given are low. They are gradually increased to relieve the person’s level of pain or shortness of breath. Once a person has used morphine, it can either be used occasionally or more continuously as needed. There is not an immediate addiction to the drug.

There are many opiates available today which are many times stronger than morphine. The effects of morphine are well documented, and when used appropriately it can be an important part of symptom management in hospice care.

Hospice doctors and nurses teach patients and families about when and how to use morphine and other symptom management medications, so that patients can be comfortable, and can enjoy an optimum quality of life while remaining in the setting of their choice.

The month of September has been declared Pain Awareness Month.  Pain Awareness Month is a time when various organizations work to raise public awareness of issues in the area of pain and pain management. It’s important to know how to manage pain in those experiencing a life-limiting illness. Sometimes a preconceived idea about morphine can delay or halt the use of a medication that can offer pain and symptom relief. If you would like to learn more about hospice care and management of pain due to a life-limiting-illness please contact our office at 973-383-0115.

Susan Dell , RN
Nursing Supervisor
Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice

Posted in Press Releases.