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Morphine: dispelling the myths and the misconceptions
  1. Sally Stannard, Nurse Manager
  1. Sally Stannard is Nurse Manager, Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Home Care Team, St Christopher’s Hospice, London. Email: s.stannard{at}


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. Conflicts of interest: none

  • Breathlessness
  • Cancer
  • Morphine
  • Non-malignant conditions
  • Pain

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