If you have been prescribed any of the different types of morphine, it is important to understand the side effects and risks associated with its use to avoid dependency and a potentially life-threatening overdose.
Staying educated on all aspects of your medical treatment is an effective way to make informed decisions about your plan of care. Moreover, maintaining proper use of this medication and knowing what to expect or look out for can help you avoid misuse and addiction.
To help you learn more about this topic, we created a comprehensive guide that contains everything you should know about the available types of morphine and their use.
Keep in mind that it is important to follow the directions of your medical provider when taking any medications.
What is Morphine?
Morphine belongs to a specific group of opiates called analgesics (which is another word for painkillers). It works by blocking pain signals from reaching the receptors in a patient’s brain, and its pain relieving effects typically last approximately 3–7 hours.
This opioid painkiller, in its various forms, is typically prescribed to treat severe pain or even relieve it, depending on the condition of the patient. It usually helps with the pain resulting from acute pulmonary edema, labor, surgery, cancer, myocardial infarction, and similar conditions.
Still, due to its nature, which may cause addiction in patients, your physician will only prescribe this medication if other painkillers and over-the-counter pain medications don’t work. This is also the only way it can be obtained, as patients can’t buy it without a prescription from a certified healthcare practitioner.
Different morphine medications are available in different dosages and marketed under several brand names, including:
- Kadian ER
- MS Contin
- Oramorph SR
This medication can also be found in the form of tablets, capsules, and solutions.
Morphine tablets come in two forms—immediate-release and extended-release. The immediate-release form is typically prescribed to be taken every 4 hours. These tablets usually begin to “kick in” within 30 minutes of consumption, reach their peak effects after about 1 hour, and continue to work for approximately 2–4 hours. They are usually used if the patient is experiencing short-term or mild pain.
Extended-release tablets should generally be taken every 8–12 hours. This formulation begins to take effect after about 90 minutes, but the effects may last for anywhere between 12 and 24 hours because the drug is released and delivered in several stages.
Unlike the immediate-release morphine tablets, the extended-release ones are used for treating severe pain that requires constant or long-term pain management around the clock.
This type of morphine is only available in extended-release formulations, and, depending on the situation, a patient may be required to take it every 8–12 hours or every 24 hours.
Just like extended-release tablets, the capsules are not meant to treat pain that is successfully managed by NSAIDs or short-term pain, such as post-op pain. Another important thing to keep in mind is that they shouldn’t be taken when needed but on a more scheduled basis as prescribed.
Morphine Liquid Solution
The morphine liquid solution should be taken orally and is intended to treat both acute and chronic pain. It can be prescribed in various dosages and should be taken exactly as your physician has directed you to. If you feel that your dosage needs to be altered, you should speak with your doctor, and they will adjust the prescribed dose if needed.
This formulation of the medication will begin relieving your pain approximately 15–30 minutes after you take it. Its effects will peak about an hour after ingestion and last for roughly 2–4 hours. Depending on the type of pain that you are suffering from, it may be prescribed as an “as-needed” pain treatment or one that is scheduled to be taken around the clock.
Facts About Morphine
Now that you’re familiar with the types of morphine and its basic features, you should take a look at some facts related to this medication.
Did you know that…
- The number of people addicted to morphine who were admitted to the emergency room increased by 106% from the year 2004 to the year 2008.
- More than 60% of people addicted to morphine admit that they obtain the drug from their loved ones.
- Morphine is commonly prescribed to cancer patients who are on a palliative care treatment plan.
- The chemical makeup of morphine is very similar to that of heroin, as they’re both extracted from the opium poppy plant.
- In the mid-1800s, people used to treat morphine addiction with heroin, believing that this substance was safer to use.
Your morphine dosage will be determined by the prescribing healthcare professional based on what they believe is best for you.
Although the dose of morphine you will receive is at the discretion of the physician, chances are you will start with a lower dose. Then, in order to find the right one for you, your doctor will gradually increase the dosage if necessary until it gives satisfying results.
Both the dosage and the frequency that your physician prescribes will depend on the form in which you are taking morphine. The frequency can range anywhere from every 4 hours to every 24 hours. In order to avoid overdose or any other dangerous side effects, it is very important that you follow the instructions provided to you by the prescribing physician.
Before starting you on morphine, your doctor must be aware of any other medications you are taking in order to avoid any adverse drug interactions.
It may also be beneficial for you to inform your physician of any family history involving substance abuse or mental illness. If you or anyone in your family has experienced either of these, it does put you at a greater risk of overusing the morphine.
Note that morphine can also cause dangerous and possibly life-threatening respiratory issues. This is most likely to occur within the first 24–72 hours after taking the drug or anytime the dose has been increased. For this reason, your doctor should also know if you currently have or have ever had any breathing problems or asthma.
Finally, because it is typically taken for longer periods, morphine also carries the risk of being habit-forming and leading to dependence. As with any prescription medication, all types of morphine should always be taken exactly as instructed by your prescribing physician. It is equally important that you do not suddenly stop taking this medication without talking to your doctor first, as this can result in withdrawal symptoms.
Side Effects of Using Morphine
Morphine use is commonly associated with several side effects, which may include:
- Mood changes or increased nervousness
- Abdominal discomfort/cramping
- Dry mouth
- Constricted pupils
- Pain or difficulty with urination
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and they appear to be severe or do not subside, you should speak with a physician. They might be able to give you tips on how to avoid or reduce some of these side effects.
You should also be aware of the possibility that this medication can cause a decrease in fertility in both women and men. If this concerns you or if you are planning on starting a family, you may want to further discuss this matter with your physician.
Also, morphine is not intended to be taken by anyone who is pregnant or intends to get pregnant, as regular opioid use during pregnancy can lead to withdrawal symptoms in the baby after birth. These symptoms may include irritability, high-pitched crying, hyperactivity, vomiting, diarrhea, and uncontrollable shaking.
Another risk that comes along with taking this medication is the possibility of getting lightheaded or dizzy and fainting when you sit or stand up too quickly from a lying position. You can avoid this side effect by rising slowly out of bed, making sure to sit at the edge of the bed with your feet on the floor for a few minutes before standing up.
As with other opioids, consistent misuse and abuse of morphine can result in opioid addiction. Usually, one of the first signs of this condition is the development of a tolerance to the drug. After you have developed a tolerance to the medication, you will require increased doses of the medication to experience the same level of pain relief.
Becoming dependent on morphine can make it very challenging to stop using it. When you try to, you will likely experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. In fact, anyone who takes morphine in a way other than as instructed by a healthcare professional puts themselves at risk for an opioid overdose.
There are many signs of morphine overdose that you should be able to recognize if you or your loved one is taking this medication. These may include:
- Inability to focus
- Slurred speech
- Increased blood pressure
- Intense thirst
- Lower back or side pain
- Swelling of the face and extremities
- Decreased movement
- Decreased respiratory rate
- Muscle cramping/spasms
In more severe cases, a morphine overdose may result in loss of consciousness, coma, or even death. You can prevent this by taking the medication exactly as prescribed and having a discussion with your physician if you feel as though you might be developing a tolerance or becoming addicted.
FAQ About Morphine
#1. How long will morphine take to work?
Typically, it takes about 15–30 minutes on average for morphine to begin taking effect, but it does depend on the dose your medical professional has prescribed you.
How long it works for will also depend on the form morphine comes in. For example, the immediate-release forms only relieve pain for about 2–4 hours, while the extended-release ones work for much longer, depending on the dose.
#2. Can I become addicted to morphine?
Yes, you can develop an addiction to morphine since this drug is typically used for longer periods of time. This makes you more likely to become dependent on the substance. In order to reduce the risk of becoming addicted, you should strictly follow the doctor’s orders and instructions when taking prescription pain medication.
#3. How can I tell what type of morphine I’m taking?
Morphine should be taken only with the prescription of a medical professional. If you’re unsure what type of morphine you have been prescribed, you can refer to the label on the medication or your prescription. This should tell you exactly what the medication is, what dosage you are on, and how frequently you should take it. If you still have questions, it’s always best to consult the prescribing provider.
#4. Can I drink alcohol with morphine?
No, morphine and alcohol should not be taken together. The combination of these two substances increases the risk of dangerous side effects that have the potential to be life-threatening.
Also, opioids and alcohol are both depressants, so if you drink alcohol while taking morphine, it will dangerously magnify the effect that alcohol has on you.
If you’ve read this far, you have probably expanded your knowledge about the different types of morphine available.
Here are a few key points that you can take away from this article:
- There are several different forms of morphine available, including immediate and extended-release tablets, extended-release capsules, and a liquid solution.
- Each different type of morphine is available in several different dosages, and yours will be determined by your physician.
- Morphine has a high risk of overdose anytime that it is abused or used in any way other than as instructed by the prescribing physician, regardless of the form it comes in.
- Morphine is not intended to be used during pregnancy and should not be combined with alcohol.