To answer some of the questions surrounding the medicinal use of narcotic analgesics in advanced cancer, a group of 500 patients admitted to St Christopher's Hospice was reviewed. To achieve and maintain pain relief many of the patients received diamorphine (heroin) regularly every four hours. Almost all the patients received a phenothiazine concurrently; other drugs were prescribed when indicated. It was concluded that: 1) Although most patients receive parenteral diamorphine during the last 12 to 24 hours, the majority can be maintained on oral medication until this time. 2) There is no single optimal dose of diamorphine. 3) Psychological dependence does not occur. 4) Physical dependence may develop but does not prevent the downward adjustment of the dose of diamorphine when considered clinically feasible. 5) Tolerance is not a practical problem. 6) The prescription of diamorphine does not, by itself, lead to impairment of mental faculties.
Also discussed are: 1) the psychobiological nature of pain; 2) the rational use of analgesics; 3) the need for further research; 4) the importance of the doctor's attitude.
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