Hospice Medication Myths

May 3, 2023 | News

Because of the disease process and changes that can occur in the brain and body of someone dealing with a terminal illness, it is not uncommon for people to experience pain, anxiety, and/or agitation. Hospice has a lot of tools which can be quite successful in managing these symptoms so that patients can maintain a better quality of life. Some of these medications are misunderstood or unfamiliar, so it can be scary for people caring for a loved one to use them. We wanted to explore some of the more common medication myths to help caregivers and patients have a better understanding of these medications and their usage.

Myth: “I don’t want to get addicted!”

Someone who is dealing with a terminal illness and is experiencing pain and/or shortness of breath does not typically form an addiction to opioids and other medications used to treat symptoms. As a person’s condition deteriorates, it is not uncommon that adjustments need to be made to keep symptoms under better control. This can be related to many things, including having developed increased tolerance, but does not represent addiction.

Myth: “When you’re on hospice, they just drug you up so you sleep all day.”

Hospice care focuses on maximizing a patient’s quality of life. Most people want to be awake, alert, and able to interact with visitors. The hospice team works very carefully with medication management to help ensure people have a greater level of comfort while also being as awake as possible.

When a person is not used to taking some of these stronger medications, they may note increased drowsiness. However, this typically clears up within a couple of days. In these situations, our team will also usually start at a smaller dose to prevent over sedating the patient as they adjust to this new regimen. Nurses and doctors work together closely to ensure they can find the right balance to ensure comfort with as little sedation as possible.

Myth: “Morphine makes you die faster!”

Again, we want to maximize quality of life. Hospice does not hasten the dying process. We want you to have as much time with your loved ones, pets, etc., as possible. Morphine can be very helpful in reducing symptoms of pain as well as shortness of breath. When a person can be more comfortable, they will be able to be more active and alert.

Myth: “But I’ve heard of people who died shortly after receiving morphine!”

When a person is actively dying and is experiencing pain, agitation, etc., their body tends to be in “fight or flight” mode. Once a person’s symptoms are relieved, they can be more calm, and their body can “let go” more easily which is why it is not uncommon to see a suffering patient die shortly after receiving pain medication. This wasn’t an effect of the medication, but of having improved symptom management. Someone who is not at this stage of their terminal illness will not have this response to a medication.

Myth: “Methadone is just for drug addicts!”

While methadone can be used to treat things such as heroin addiction, it is also can offer hospice patients a variety of benefits.

  • Methadone can relieve neuropathic pain (nerve pain) more effectively than other opioids.
  • It tends to be longer acting which means people don’t have to take as many doses throughout the day to have their pain controlled.
  • Most opioids have a side effect of constipation, and methadone has a much lower incidence of this challenge.
  • Methadone does a better job of controlling pain while allowing patients to be more alert, less drowsy (after the initial three to five days), and able to be more active.
  • As it is the only long-acting opioid available in liquid form, this also helps ensure improved pain control when a patient is not able to swallow as well and allows for more precise dosing.

We care about you!

Hospice of the Northwest wants you to have the best life possible when facing a life-limiting illness. Our team works with you and your circle of support to provide education and to come up with a plan that most closely meets your desires and needs. We are always willing to answer questions, try alternatives, etc., so that we can provide you with the best care and comfort possible.

Choosing the right hospice provider can make a significant difference to the overall care a person receives. It is important that you feel comfortable asking their staff questions that are most important to you. This is obviously a big decision! If you think Hospice of the Northwest might be the right hospice provider for you or someone you love, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We care about you.

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