Pavlovian conditioning and death from apparent overdose of medically prescribed morphine: A case report

Shepard Siegel, McMaster University
Delbert W. Ellsworth, Elizabethtown College


A Pavlovian conditioning model of tolerance emphasizes the contribution of an association between predrug cues and the systemic effect of the drug to the display of tolerance. In agreement with the model, results of a recent animal experiment, as well as retrospective reports by human overdose victims, indicate that the pernicious effects of heroin are influenced by environmental cues associated with the systemic effects of the drug. The present case report describes an in stance of death from apparent morphine overdose in a patient receiving the drug for medical purposes. The circumstances of this death are readily interpretable by the conditioning analysis of tolerance. © 1986, Psychonomic Society, Inc.. All rights reserved.