Deborah Orr: Always say yes to morphine

Splendid to see Ewan Hoyle, founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform, sticking it to conference from the fringes, over the leadership's timidity on the issue. I particularly liked his interesting fact about diamorphine, which was that its cost is a fifth that of methadone.

Why then, are heroin addicts treated on the NHS with methadone, not diamorphine? Well, it's because use of an opium-based product is being treated, rather than addiction. Methadone is more toxic and habit-forming. But it's never enjoyable, so it's more moral. Discuss.

Discuss? I don't mind if I do, perhaps using a telling anecdote. I had an operation recently, and when I came round, I was literally feeling no pain. But the theatre nurse wanted to hook me up to a morphine pump, all the same. I protested, explaining that I had a high pain threshold and I'd rather see how I did without one. An argument ensued, and eventually the nurse, exasperated, cried: "Look! Have the morphine pump. It's really CHEAP." I surrendered.

Up in the ward, I tried the morphine pump. Horrible.

Later, I started to feel a bit of pain – not much – but when asked, I reported the sensation to the nurse. "That's because you're not using your morphine pump enough. Mostly, people use it every five minutes." I used it. Still horrible. The nurse then read my vital signs. My blood oxygen was low. "It's this morphine pump. I can feel it depressing my breathing. And it makes me drowsy. Do I have to have it?" Yes.

Anyway. Night came, I couldn't sleep and I was bored. I started using the morphine pump, just to help me nod off (or out). Time passed, and the medical staff gathered round in the morning.

"So," said the nurse, in a told-you-so way, "You did start using the pump, from about 2am!"

"Yes – but not for pain management, for boredom. You know, for the hit . . ."

The staff all locked eyes, looking horrified. "All right. We'll take it away."

So now you know. If a morphine pump you don't want is ever thrust upon you, just say: "Cool, man. I lurrrve morphine pumps." Then you won't get one.

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