Withholding Pain Medication for Fear of Addiction

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer years ago, both he and my mother were very concerned about his becoming addicted to the pain medications he was being given. After all, morphine and dilaudid are very scary words. My dad got over his fear sooner than my mother when he felt the pain relief he so desperately needed. My mother, however, feeling protective of my father, often withheld giving him his pain medication or only gave him half of what had been prescribed. When his hospice nurse noticed him wincing as he adjusted his position on the couch, and trying to stifle a whimper when his dog’s tail hit his knee, she asked my mother when his last pain medication was, as it clearly was not working well enough. And that is when my mother having witnessed the same clues to his pain, admitted that she had not been giving him the full amount for fear of his becoming addicted.  ‘This may be a big reason why he has stopped coming out to the living room to visit and stays in bed’ his nurse had said. My mother was not alone, however,  in fearing the medications used among the terminally ill. Too many people assume their loved ones will become addicted, withhold pain medications, and the result is avoidable unmanaged pain. A terminally ill person with six months or less to live is not going to become addicted. Your loved one is dying. Their time left with you is numbered by weeks, not years.  They are not going to recover or outgrow their need for their pain medication.  A person is not addicted when the medicine they take is used for what it is intended, pain relief. Addicts abuse medications for the high they are looking for. Your loved ones are simply looking for relief to make it through the day. Pain medications will be monitored and frequently evaluated and adjusted as necessary by your hospice doctor in order to manage comfort and tolerance levels. If you are taking frequent breakthrough pain medication  then obviously your long acting pain pill is not at the right dosage strength for you. Even those who prided themselves on never needing anything stronger than a Tylenol in the past may require stronger pain medicine when facing a terminal illness.  Essentially, withholding a person’s pain medication only serves to keep that dying person from comfortably participating in what remains of their family life.

For more information on addiction fears while managing pain among the terminally ill…

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