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Morphine addiction in hospice care is a common fear of patients and friends and family. However, the rate of addiction is pretty rare. The idea that liberal morphine use will lead to addiction is born out of a general fear of opioids and their ability to cause addiction. It is also due to a misunderstanding of the difference between dependence and addiction.

Morphine Addiction in Hospice Care: Fear

Because of the fear of morphine addiction in hospice care, some patients are not given an adequate amount of medication to make them comfortable. The fear is fed in part by outdated knowledge about opioids and the unintended effects of the war on drugs. Many legitimate pain patients who are not in hospice care have a difficult time getting the medication they need for the same reasons. While the “prescription pill epidemic” and subsequent law enforcement crackdown rages, many people who actually need pain medication fall through the cracks.

Morphine Addiction in Hospice Care: The difference between dependence and addiction

Dependence on a medication can occur even with normal usage. The body responds to the intake of any medication by altering the chemicals it produces and the receptor number and type. Dependence can occur with Tylenol. It simply means that if a patient doesn’t take a certain medication, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.  Addiction, however, is defined by continuing to take a drug even in the face of severe consequences.

Morphine Addiction in Hospice Care: The dangers of undertreating pain in hospice care

When taken to relieve severe pain, opioids like morphine relieve pain, control symptoms, and create well-being. Pain that is not treated or is treated only partially tends to increase in severity and duration. It is cruel, as well, to deny medication to end-of-life patients out of fear of morphine addiction in hospice care. Under-treatment of pain is actually more wide-spread than over-treatment, despite what might be presented in the media. Under-treatment, especially of those in hospice care, has violates ethical principles according to the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Morphine Addiction in Hospice Care: The patients that live

Not all patients die in hospice care. In fact, as many as 200,000 patients are discharged from hospice alive every year. And about 20% stay longer than the standard 180 days (to be admitted into hospice care, a doctor must certify that you will likely die within 180 days.) Some of those that are discharged are dependent on medicine, but, again morphine addiction in hospice care is very rare. Also, if they are discharged from a reputable facility, the facility will wean them off the morphine before they are released. Morphine addiction in hospice care typically occurs in those patients who have a history of abuse or addiction who are misdiagnosed and then released. This adds up to a very few patients. And when the small risk of morphine addiction in hospice care is compared to the dangers of undertreating pain in hospice facilities, the benefits  far outweigh the risks.

If you or someone you know needs treatment for Morphine Addiction please call us at 800-951-6135 or visit us online at

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