October is American Pharmacists Month. All month long we are sharing education, debunking myths, offering resources and providing tips that can help improve an individual’s quality of life, from our very own PGY2 Pharmacy Resident, Dr. Hanna Hollingsworth. Hospice of Southern Illinois, in collaboration with SIUE School of Pharmacy, has 1 of 18 total PGY2 Pain and Palliative Care Pharmacy Residency Programs in the country and the only accredited one that is fully funded by a hospice. Learn more about our PGY2 Program and all the benefits it offers to individuals, families, and your care team: https://hospice.org/pharmacy-residency-program/.
Myth #1: Morphine makes hospice patients die faster
Due to its use near and at the time of end-of-life, many individuals and their family worry that morphine may speed-up the dying process. While no medication is without risks, morphine is a medication with essential benefits for hospice patients including pain relief and improvement in shortness of breath which ultimately supports patient comfort. Thanks to its long history of use, and wide-spread familiarity of its actions and properties, including risk for negative side effects, health care providers are well-equipped to utilize morphine in a safe and effective manner.
Doses are started low and gradually increased according to the symptoms, as well as, their tolerability to the medication, especially for patients who do not regularly take opioid medications such as morphine. Nurses, aides, and physicians are frequently watching for symptoms that might indicate the dose is too high (i.e. sedation or respiratory depression), especially at the time of initiating the medication or dose increase. It is also worth mentioning that serious side effects to morphine are rather rare when implemented in the method described above and taken as directed. Most commonly, side effects such as nausea and constipation that either self-resolve or can be managed with other medications such as a laxative.
Symptoms such as pain and shortness of breath, which are common in many life-limiting illnesses, especially near the end-of-life, can cause serious distress and discomfort to patients. Fortunately, medications such as morphine can provide substantial relief in this aspect and help patients to experience a more comfortable death throughout its natural course.
Learn more about hospice care: www.hospice.org/ourcare/