Myths about morphine

PHOTO: Myths about morphine

"Morphine is like a pain killer, people might get addicted to it."

"I think if I'm not mistaken, morphine has side effects. It sort of damages your brain cells."

"I think the body would be able to manage the pain if you give it some time. Painkillers might not be necessary."

These are some of the comments received by RazorTV when they took to the street to find out more about the common misconceptions people have about morphine.

Because of these untrue beliefs, Singapore patients and doctors are reluctant to use morphine as a painkiller, even though it is commonly used in other countries, RazorTV reported.

The average American consumes about 725mg of morphine. The average Singaporean consumes just 4.5mg.

"We have the legacy of the opium war and the fear of addiction that came from the last century, so it is very well-known that people think that opium and medication derived from opium are bad things," said Cynthia Goh, Senior consultant at the Department of Palliative Medicine, National Cancer Center.

"If we (Asians) have an operation, we expect the pain, and so we don't ask for pain medication," she added.

However, Dr Goh says that when taken under medical supervision, morphine is safe and extremely helpful to the patient.

Used correctly, morphine can help people with chronic debilitating pain go on to lead regular lives.

Why reject what helps you?

For former police officer Bernard Tan, morphine was a life saver.

He was diagnosed with nose cancer in 2003, and went through surgery and radiotherapy to fight the illness.

However, he was left with pains and aches all over his body.

"Once the pain comes, you are not able to think. Your mind is just not functioning, because the pain controls you," he said.

Bernard said during his once-a-month visit to the doctor, his doctor only wanted to know if he's had a relapse, and told him the pain was just "a process".

He was only prescribed morphine two years ago. After seven years of pain, Bernard has become a fervent advocate of the drug, saying the drug transformed him from a depressed and suicidal person to one who can finally think clearly.

"You cannot manage pain on your own. You need help," he stressed.

To fight the misconception people have of morphine, the Lien foundation has launched the campaign "Stop the pain", where volunteers raise awareness by distributing syringe pens in the streets.

The philanthropic organisation has also partially funded a documentary called "Life before death". The documentary, filmed in 11 countries, portrayed lives of patients suffering from cancer, HIV, and other ailments with chronic pain.

Breaking free from the chains of pain

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that each year, tens of millions of people suffer untreated moderate to severe pain.

Singapore's first hospice opened in 1985 at St Joseph Home. However, despite being around for a number of years, only 30 per cent of the 70, 000 people who die there every year have benefited from some form of palliative care.

The Singapore Hospice council defines hospices and palliative care as a holistic approach to caring for patients going through the last stages of their lives.

Dr Goh said most people do not know what hospices do, and have negative misconceptions about them.

"The people associate it (hospices) with death. It is not about dying but how we want to live for the last part of our life," she explained.

Palliative care has recently become a specialty at medical schools to attract more students and professionals in the field.

However, Lien foundation's CEO Lee Poh Wah says there is still a long way to go.

"When you look at the level of conversation of end of life care, among family members and friends, i think it is still dismal," she said.

"There is a lifetime of work to be done in Singapore itself," she said.