Morphine is a common pain medication used for patients on hospice care. Morphine is an opioid agonist, which activates opioid receptors within the body to decrease pain. Morphine has been used for many years to treat both acute (short-lasting) and chronic (long-lasting) pain. Due to its common use as an end-of-life medication, it has developed a “bad reputation.” It is common many patients, and family members as well, have fears of morphine. When friends and family members become afraid, they sometimes tell their loved one to not take morphine. This can cause increased despair and confusion for the patient because they want to respect their family’s wishes, but the pain is also making them very uncomfortable.
A common myth about morphine from patients or their family is that it causes you stop breathing. A common affect of morphine slows a patient’s breathing. Hospice care nurses are careful on the amount of morphine prescribed to the patient so they are not to the point of where they stop breathing. Morphine is used when a patient has dyspnea, or the feeling of shortness of breath. The morphine becomes a comfort measure to the hospice patient, as shortness of breath is more common as the disease progresses.
The main reason for use of morphine is pain management. Another common myth is it is only effective for a short period of time, or if started too early, it will not work later. The body develops a tolerance to an opioid when taken longer than a period of seven days. Most likely, the hospice patient may require an increased dose of morphine for the desired effect. There are other opioids available if morphine does become ineffective in the hospice patient. These include hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and methadone. It is important to note when used properly, morphine is not only relatively safe, it is very effective in treating multiple symptoms at the end of life.