Morphine Benefits

Our dad has severe emphysema and has been on oxygen for several years. Recently in hospital he received some morphine and said his breathing was much better and he wanted to keep taking it.  His regular doctor said morphine was only for people who were dying and wouldn’t prescribe it.  Should dad take it regularly?

This is a common misperception:  that morphine is used only to help those dying or to accelerate their death.  Unfortunately, that thinking then denies morphine’s benefits to patients with serious chronic conditions such as end-stage lung (emphysema) or heart disease, or the agitation of dementia (which is often triggered by chronic pain):  several studies verify that those patients who are more comfortable, often live longer.

Since it works so well, morphine is considered the ‘gold standard’ in palliative care:  i.e. all other narcotics or opioids [drugs that act like opium] are compared to it.

Morphine helps these chronic diseases because it:

relaxes the muscles of the bronchial tubes in the lungs, making it easier to breathe;

reduces blood flow back to the heart, making less work for the heart;

reduces the anxiety associated with feeling short of breath or with angina [chest pain from heart disease); and

reduces pain overall, which helps decrease the anxiety and agitation seen in dementias.

Many patients with these conditions have lived more comfortably for months, if not years, after starting low dose morphine (as in only 3mg 3-4 times a day).

Although morphine may cause confusion (usually only at higher doses), it improves with time or reducing the dose; and therefore, the benefits far outweigh its potential harms.

Constipation often occurs [as with any narcotic]; patients need to regularly take a laxative like senokot [stool softeners aren’t enough].

So the bottom line is yes—have your dad ask his doctor to prescribe a small dose regularly for a  few weeks and then reassess how he feels.