Morphine is among several different medications that can relieve pain and help hospice patients enjoy a better quality of life, but it is often misunderstood.
As a hospice pharmacist, I educate our staff, patients and families about the best medications and options that will help patients be comfortable and make the most of every day. In some cases, morphine is the best option.
Morphine relieves pain and makes it easier for many hospice patients to breathe, but persistent myths can hinder its benefits. Here’s the truth about five common morphine myths:
Fact: Controlled use of morphine keeps the patient as comfortable as they want to be. It is introduced slowly and is tailored to the patient’s symptoms and reactions. Often, patients come on hospice service much too late, so by the time morphine (or other opioid pain medication) is started, the disease process is already nearing the end. The timing of the patient death is because of the illness, not the morphine.
Fact: Managing a patient’s pain and symptoms to their liking is of utmost importance. Morphine is an excellent medication for doing that whenever a hospice patient needs it and under the supervision of the hospice and/or primary provider. We address pain according to the patient’s wishes. As pain increases, the morphine dose can be adjusted to relieve it. There is not a maximum dose; it is tailored to each patient for their symptomatic relief.
Fact: When correctly prescribed and taken, morphine does not cause sleepiness or confusion. While morphine initially can cause some degree of drowsiness, that is usually temporary as the body compensates for it. We begin with a low dose and adjust it according to the patient’s symptoms and comfort level.
Fact: If morphine is prescribed, it will be for the purpose of relieving pain, and will not cause the patient to crave the drug or become addicted.
Fact: When a hospice patient has difficulty breathing, they often become anxious and afraid. Morphine can slow and normalize the rate of breathing, which can calm the patient, but does not stop breathing.
About the author
Alifia Waliji-Banglawala, Pharm.D., is Director of Pharmacy Services at Care Dimensions.
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Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.