Your loved one has been experiencing end-of-life pain caused the symptoms of illness or aging, and you may feel helpless. Your doctor might have suggested hospice care as an option, but you’re concerned about the stigma against morphine. With news of the rise of opiate addiction in the United States, you may wonder if morphine or other opioids are the best choice for your loved one. Just how safe is the use of morphine in a hospice setting? Is morphine even necessary for hospice?
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Is Morphine Necessary for Hospice?
Whether or not to use morphine is a very personal question that you must consider along with the wishes of your ill loved one. In a best case scenario, your loved one or family member would have set out their wishes for end of life care far in advance. Unfortunately, many of us do not have the information to make this choice before we actually need the decision. There are several points to consider.
Worried About Addiction? Don’t Be
You may question whether or not morphine is safe for your loved one. Morphine can be a highly addictive drug, but you must understand the difference between a physiological dependence (a body’s need for a substance) and a dangerous addiction. Any time a person takes a prescription drug, their body responds to the drug by altering natural chemicals the body produces. This creates a dependence on the drug for a short time. You can become dependent on over-the-counter pain relievers. Addiction, on the other hand is characterized by continuing to take a substance when it is no longer necessary and when it begins to have severe consequences to yourself or others.
Because your loved one has limited time left, the focus should not be whether they will become addicted or dependent on morphine but rather how morphine can help them live the best life possible for their remaining days. If a patient makes a recovery after being administered morphine in a responsible hospice environment, then they will be weaned off of the medication at a safe rate. The likelihood of a hospice patient becoming addicted to morphine is very low.
Morphine Reduces Pain and Improves Quality of Life
Hospice is all about reducing pain in order to keep a patient comfortable. Pain management at the end of life improves the quality of time a person has remaining. Rather than suffering through symptoms, a person is able to focus on quality time with their loved ones. Choosing the right pain management solution can help the person experiencing pain to become more at ease and have peaceful final days.
Hospice Is Ineffective Without Pain-Relieving Medication
There is a danger in under-medicating someone while in hospice. Loved ones who mean well sometimes ask for lower doses of morphine to be given to a patient. This may actually cause greater pain and discomfort for the hospice patient, rendering hospice ineffective. The emphasis is to keep your loved one comfortable.
There are other serious reasons that a person should not be administered morphine. There are course people who, for reasons of allergy or aversion to opioids, still want options other than morphine for pain management. Luckily, there are alternatives.
Alternatives to Morphine
There are other options for end-of- life pain management should you decide that morphine isn’t the right treatment option.
- Various Anti-seizure medications
Work with your hospice provider to create the best medication plan for your loved one. Be sure to explain any reasons why morphine will not be a good solution and ask if any accommodations or alterations can be made.
Does Morphine Make Death Come Sooner?
When a person is receiving hospice care and morphine is prescribed, there is always a “final dose” given. This often causes confusion for grieving families. Many believe that giving a patient morphine will cause them to pass away sooner than had they not received the medication. People believe that morphine is so sedative that it can cause someone to stop breathing. However, there is no proof of this. In actuality, morphine is often given to those with terminal lung cancer as it makes breathing less painful.
Remember that people who come to hospice care have stopped all treatment and are often seeking comfort and peace at the end of their lives. A hospice patient may “slip away” sooner simply because active treatment has ceased. However, morphine is designed to alleviate the harsh symptoms of both previous treatment plans as well as the illness itself. This is why it seems like hospice patients on morphine may pass away sooner.
How Long Does a Hospice Patient Have After Being Placed on Morphine?
As with any patient, the length of time of hospice care depends on the patient’s own medical history as well as other factors. It’s impossible to determine exactly when someone will pass away; doctors can only give an educated guess. Since morphine has not been shown to make death come sooner, there is no way to determine how long your loved one will remain in hospice after being administered the drug. But please realize that no matter how long your loved one has left, their time will be spent much more comfortably after administering some form of pain management.
The decision to use morphine is one that a patient and family must take time to consider. Morphine can allow a patient to say goodbye, finish last tasks, and remain pain free at the end of life. Although it can carry with it some stigma and dangers, the benefits to a hospice patients quality of life are greatly improved when morphine is administered responsibly.