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End of Life Care

Obstacles to Pain Relief

Stumbling blocks that might get in the way of pain management

Article Highlights

  • Low risk of addiction to opioids
  • Side effects are usually temporary
  • Discuss your beliefs

En español | For some caregivers and their loved ones, myths and misconceptions about pain management get in the way of relief. For others, differing opinions about types of relief hinder pain management. As a caregiver, you may encounter the following obstacles while helping to ease your loved one's pain.


See also: Dealing with pain checklist.


Fear of Addiction
Many worry that taking opioids such as morphine will result in addiction. Research has shown that there’s little risk of addiction when a doctor administers medicines properly and the patient takes them properly. There is an important difference between dependence and addiction. Dependence on opioid-based medication is natural, normal and not a problem as long as withdrawal from the medication is done gently under a doctor’s supervision. Addiction is something else entirely, and affects only a small minority of people treated for pain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction to prescription drugs is rare.

Reactions to Medications
People who take a medication with opioid ingredients can have short-term reactions, such as mental fogginess or sleepiness, constipation and itchy skin. These side effects are usually temporary. For some people who take opioids for the first time (or for the first time in a while), the body takes a few days to adjust to the medication. Anyone taking an opioid should keep in touch with the prescribing doctor to report these short-term side effects, many of which are treatable, and ask about ways to minimize them.

Morphine Must Mean the End Is Near
The level of medication prescribed and taken should depend on the level of pain, plain and simple. And only the patient knows how much it hurts. Logically, doctors start with mild medication and resort to stronger substances, such as morphine, when appropriate. The appearance of morphine merely indicates that the person’s pain level requires additional help. It does not shorten a person’s life or suggest that the end may be near. Some people with chronic pain syndromes take opioids for years with few side effects.

A Stoic Attitude
Many consider pain part of their illness and think that they must live with it. This prevents them from receiving proper pain management and results in needless suffering.

Differing Opinions
There can be strong attitudes toward opioids. Sometimes these opinions can get in the way of even the most loving relationship. Be sure to discuss your beliefs on the topic with your loved one before it becomes an issue. Even if you are concerned about the prescription of these drugs, it is crucial that you follow the doctor's orders. If you are unable to follow this task, you may want to ask another family member to monitor medication. Conversely, you cannot force medication on someone who chooses not to take it. If either situation becomes an issue, it might be wise to visit the doctor and see if there is an alternative solution, like a three-day pain patch, that requires less thought and less fluctuation in the medicine.

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