Hospice is about comfort and care and every patient has the right to determine how comfortable they want to be.
Several different medications can be used to relieve pain and help patients enjoy a better quality of life. As a hospice pharmacist, I work to educate our staff, patients and families about the best medications and options that will help the patients be comfortable and make the most of every day.
Morphine is an opiate that relieves pain and makes it easier for many hospice patients to breathe, but it is often misunderstood. Let’s get to the truth about five common morphine myths:
Myth: Morphine = imminent death.
Fact: Morphine is used to keep 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 controlled use of morphine.
Myth: Morphine is used only at end of life.
Fact: Managing a patient’s pain and symptoms to their liking is of utmost importance and morphine is an excellent medication for doing that throughout the hospice journey.
Myth: Morphine stops breathing.
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 doesn’t stop breathing.
Myth: People who take morphine are sleepy and confused.
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.
Myth: Morphine should be taken only for severe pain.
Fact: The patient is always our main concern, so 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.
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About the author
Ronald Wyner is Clinical Staff Pharmacist at Care Dimensions.