Morphine: dispelling the myths and the misconceptions

Clinical skills
First published in print journal End of Life Care by HealthComm UK
Declaration of interests: 
Sally Stannard
Author profile (accurate when this article was originally published): 
Sally Stannard is Nurse Manager, Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Home Care Team, St Christopher’s Hospice, London. Email:

The opioid, morphine, is very effective in the treatment of moderate to severe cancer pain and pain
experienced by patients with non-malignant conditions. Indeed, in the World Health Organization
analgesic ladder, morphine is cited as the main example of a strong opioid that should be used when
non-opioids (such as paracetamol) and weak opioids (such as codeine) fail to control pain. Morphine
can also relieve the sensation of breathlessness. However, many myths surround the use of morphine.
These include addiction, tolerance, sedation, respiratory depression and a shortened life. These
myths result in patients being reluctant to take their prescribed doses and those who prescribe
morphine setting inappropriate dose limits. There is no evidence to support the theory that opioids,
used in a carefully titrated way for the control of breathlessness in palliative care, increase the risk
of respiratory depression. This article aims to dispel the myths and misconceptions surrounding
morphine. It will answer the common questions associated with morphine use.

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