The 411 on Morphine


Morphine is one of the most widely used medications at the end of life. It is the gold standard of pain control and one of the most effective medications for shortness of breath, yet people still fear it. Some patients even refuse to use it because of the myths they’ve heard about morphine. Here are a few of the most common questions I’m asked by patients and their families.

Q. “Will morphine kill my husband?”

A. No. Morphine is one of the best medications for pain. Sometimes patients require a lot of morphine before they die, but the morphine doesn’t kill them. It simply helps them die in comfort. That’s the goal.

Q. Will morphine make me an addict?

A. Addiction rarely occurs in people who take morphine for pain. When their pain is under control, people don’t want more medication. Physical dependence may occur when a patient has been on it a long time, but physical dependence is not addiction.

Q. If the doctor puts my mother on morphine, does it mean she’s dying now?

A. No. Morphine is given at any time over the course of the disease process. It is given for pain and to help relieve breathing difficulties. Some people are on morphine for months before they die.

Q. My wife doesn’t want to be all doped up. Won’t morphine make her confused?

A. If you’re on the right dose, this shouldn’t be a problem. Some patients become more alert because they’re more comfortable. Occasionally, the drug may cause sedation and mild confusion, but this usually resolves within a week. In rare cases, someone may experience mild hallucinations. These usually go away, too.

Q. I heard morphine causes terrible constipation.

A. All narcotics can cause constipation, which is why it is very important to have a bowel plan when you are taking morphine or any narcotic. It can be prevented and is not a good reason to refuse morphine.

If you have any other questions about morphine, I’d be happy to answer them.

—Katie

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