Oregon No. 1 State in Using Morphine for Terminally Ill

Article excerpt

In keeping with Oregon's pioneering focus on the care of the dying, the state tops the United States in the medical use of morphine.

Wholesale, per-capita distribution of the painkilling drug was more than 50 percent higher in Oregon than the U.S. average in the first six months of last year, internal Drug Enforcement Administration records show. Arizona came in a close second, followed by New Hampshire, Nevada and Washington.

Oregon's increasing use of morphine, which is typically given to patient s with otherwise untreatable pain, is consistent with its leading role in end-of-life issues, researchers say. In 1994, when voters narrowly approved a doctor-assisted suicide measure - the only state to do so - Oregon ranked 11th in morphine distribution to retail druggists. In 1995, it was third. Because the assisted-suicide law has been blocked in the courts - it is up for a vote again this fall - researchers attribute the greater demand for morphine not to an outbreak of assisted suicides but to doctors' growing willingness to give gravely ill patients "comfort care." Dr. Susan Tolle, director of health care ethics at Oregon Health Sciences University, said the intense suicide debate has sensitized doctors and patients to the need for better pain management. …