Morphine Patches More Harmful Than Helpful

May 28, 2009

A new study has found that using morphine patches as a substitute for other habit-forming pain medications, may actually be more dangerous than helpful.

The use of morphine patches, intended to be a substitute for other habit-forming pain medications, may actually be more dangerous than helpful, a new study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has found.

The misuse of these patches can lead to dependency problems, the researchers discovered. Also, rather than being given in place of other habit-forming drugs, the morphine patches are actually being provided in addition to the other medications.

"This increases the health burden and the risk of addiction,” said Professor Petter Borchgrevink, head of the Norwegian National Centre for Complex Disorders. This proved to be particularly obvious in a large group of patients with chronic pain who had never used morphine-based pain relief before, Borchgrevink added.

The morphine patches were introduced in Norway in 2005, “the first morphine-like drug marketed for chronic pain that is not caused by cancer,” according to the researchers. The fear of inappropriate use prompted Borchgrevink and Professor Stein Kaasa, a specialist in pain relief medicine and director of NTNU's research group on cancer and palliation, to follow up on the patches.

The study was performed “in connection with the Prescription Registry created by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in 2004” to determine which patients had been prescribed the patches, how many actually received them, and what other addictive medications, if any, patients were using in addition to the patch.

Professor Svetlana Skurtveit of the Institute of Public Health said that half of all of the patients had been given more than one prescription and more than 90% had previously used morphine-based medications. Over 60% of patients used the morphine patches as well as other medications, “including morphine preparations and other types of addictive medicines.”

Skurtveit said that the findings “may have special significance for countries that don't yet have a morphine patch on the market,” in regard to the rules that may determine the prescriptions that are written and the individuals that the patches are prescribed for.