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What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Morphine for Pain?

Morphine is derived from the opium poppy.
Morphine can be administered by intravenous drip.
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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 11 April 2014
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Morphine is a powerful painkiller, but along with its strength comes potentially serious side effects, which make the drug unsuitable for common usage. The main disadvantage would be the potential of drug addiction, and the effects of morphine withdrawal is another negative aspect to consider. On the other hand, the primary advantage of using morphine for pain is the drug's ability to relieve and control intense physical suffering when other alternatives fail. The painkilling effects of morphine may be chosen by patients suffering from terminal illness, such as cancer, where the potential problem of addiction is less important than receiving effective pain relief.

Addiction

For those with a serious illness or traumatic injury that causes extreme pain and discomfort, morphine may be a treatment option. This option, however, is generally reserved for patients whose pain is not relieved with other medications. Many healthcare professionals are hesitant to prescribe morphine for pain because of a potential for drug dependency. Morphine abuse is not uncommon for patients who have been prescribed this drug, and in some cases this abuse leads to addiction.

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As it is a narcotic that dulls a patient's sensory perception, doctors sometimes prescribe morphine for pain. This, however, is a controversial issue among the medical profession. Some healthcare professionals believe the disadvantages outweigh the positives and refuse to prescribe the drug to their patients. Doctors who choose to prescribe morphine for their patients generally have tried other medications with little or no success. When a patient is suffering from intense pain, blood pressure and heart rate may increase to dangerous levels, while morphine is known to produce a tranquil state that counters this tendency.

Withdrawal

In most cases, morphine can be administered via an intravenous (IV) drip or morphine pills. The IV drip is generally administered by a trained medical professional, typically in a hospital or hospice, or at home under medical supervision. Even when it is prescribed in pill form, an addiction to this drug will cause severe withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the symptoms of morphine withdrawal include tremors, nightmares and night sweats. Vomiting, extreme headache, and dehydration are other possible issues for people attempting to stop taking morphine for pain. Increased heart rate and respiratory distress may be other side effects from morphine withdrawal.

Behavioral Side Effects

Even when it doesn't lead to addiction, using morphine for pain may produce unwanted side effects such as dizziness or confusion. This may pose a risk, especially when a person is driving an automobile or operating some type of machinery. In some cases, hallucinations or delusions may be another side effect of using this narcotic.

Gastrointestinal Side Effects

The drug may also produce digestive distress, such as nausea and vomiting. Stomach cramps may be another side effect from using morphine as a pain-relieving drug. Constipation or diarrhea are also possibilities when taking morphine for pain.

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Discuss this Article

anon942689
Post 19

My father had bone cancer and was prescribed morphine. Unfortunately, while it did dull the pain, his hallucinations were terrible. But in the end, I guess it served the purpose.

tammy5583
Post 18

I took morphine first -- oramorph -- now I'm taking zormorph 30mg twice three times daily. It takes the pain away but not completely. I take it for sciatica and a bad back but it keeps me awake all night and I don't sleep. It's horrible, but I'm allergic to codeine and ibuprofen, voltrol and many more so I'm stuck with this.

I've been taking it for about six months. I would say I'm addicted. I was on oramorth. First I'd have 60 ml a day, but I cut down and stopped taking that. Now I'm on the tablets and I'm addicted to them now. It's crazy. I'm being referred to a pain clinic so I hope they can help me.

anon352123
Post 17

I am currently taking morphine for severe sciatica. I will start to reduce my dose tomorrow and swap to a different pain relief. The pain has been hell and I'm really grateful to my gp. Every drug has side effects. I guess I'm lucky to have good gp support and good care. I have a very high threshold of pain so nothing else works when I'm desperate, which, thank God, isn't a lot.

anon329760
Post 16

As one person posted, as long as a person takes only what's needed to take care of the pain, euphoria is not felt. I've been taking 30mg MS Contin four times per day, and up to five instant release 30mg tablets for more than five years. This is considered a low-medium daily dosage and I hardly ever feel any kind of high, unless I take one too many, which only happens every few months.

Due to not feeling that kind of thing, I have been able to work well as a software developer for 15-plus years. Basically, it's untrue that morphine users are high all day and can't do anything. Morphine "addicts" are a completely different thing. The instant release is truly instant, which is great because I can take it once I know the pain isn't going away on its own. Before taking morphine, I was taking Vicodin which took 20-30 minutes to work so it was more common then to take too much, causing dizziness and a feeling of general crappiness later.

And another note to people saying what somebody should or shouldn't do, let that be a decision for each person and their doctor. When I first went to a pain management clinic, I was taking eight Loritab every day, which we all know now is terrible to take long term. I had been taking hydrocodone-based meds for more than 10 years and was scared to switch to morphine. After only a week I felt mad at myself for not going to a pain specialist sooner because I finally felt clear-headed, 80 percent pain-free and only have mild side effects, mainly GI related when I don't drink enough water.

My use is due to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident about 20 years ago. Broken backs and nerve damage in legs don't always heal.

anon314454
Post 15

I am taking morphine extended release tablets, with oramorph liquid morphine for breakthrough pain. My condition is a badly ruptured disc and nerve root compression causing extreme sciatica. No other medication worked to relieve the pain and I am longing to get treatment/surgery and never take this wretched drug again.

I am constantly nodding off and when I am not, I am feeling extreme nausea, despite having anti nausea medications. It does not feel in the least euphoric and the day I get to dispose of my unused prescriptions will be a happy day.

I do wake up in the mornings (when I am due to take another extended release dose) with an aching hand, arm and knee joints and don't know if this has anything to do with 'withdrawal'. If so, I would rather have that pain for a while than the awful side effects from the morphine. I only used to take the occasional paracetamol prior to this. I was concerned about dependence when first prescribed, but not any more. Can't wait to be off it.

anon295552
Post 14

To the person who said morphine fast acting only comes in liquid form, that is not correct. I am a pharmacist and the morphine extended release also known as oral morphine er, and the fast acting is in pill form also known as morphine IM, for immediate release. Both can actually be dispensed in liquid form, but only the dosage amount changes.

I have seen many customers come into the pharmacy and you can tell those who have an addiction to their medicine. Being addicted is not just based solely on how long you have been taking the product. You can be addicted if you have taken it only a week, and if you are taking more than prescribed, then that also makes you an addict. I would say that, in my fifteen years dealing with medications, that over half of my customers are addicted to some form of medication. It is a sad, sad world.

anon292306
Post 13

I suffer from arthritis and I'm on slow release morphine. I also get liquid morphine for if the pain gets really bad. Without the morphine I wouldn't be able to work and as I've been on it for over a year. I don't experience tiredness except if I take a top up of the liquid morphine.

If you are taking morphine for long term extreme pain becoming addicted is secondary. The relief outweighs this.

anon283976
Post 12

If you're not a doctor, you have no idea whether someone should be on pain meds or not. There are people who hurt as much as cancer patients but are not going to die any time soon. Note the article states, "When a patient is suffering from intense pain, blood pressure and heart rate may increase to dangerous levels". I happen to be one of those people. Fortunately, I've never become addicted to opiates or morphine. I have suffered withdrawals but that is because it is in my system.

I actually take both the time release morphine and also the faster-acting codeine (they're all opiates) for my pains. I am not going to die any time soon - unless I do not have pain meds because it is so severe I will have a stroke such as in the past. Do what you want to do for yourselves, but shut up when you're speaking about other people unless you're a doctor.

anon281877
Post 11

When being taken off morphine after having it constantly, do they get nasty and mean and very hateful?

letshearit
Post 10

How long does it take for one to get addicted to morphine? Is it possible to develop an addiction to morphine after a week of use, or does it take much longer to happen?

My friend has been taking morphine since she had a car accident the other week. She had a variety of injuries and the doctors gave her morphine pills to take once she got home. Now it is coming time for her to switch over to a weaker painkiller and she is already talking about keeping the morphine because she thinks it's best for her pain. She doesn't think anything else will work.

Do you think she knows best, or is this a bad sign? I really don't know why she thinks she still needs morphine when the doctor plans on taking her off it.

manykitties2
Post 9

My oral surgeon gave me a few doses of morphine after I had all of my wisdom teeth extracted in one go. I know a lot of people worry about getting addicted to it, but I honestly couldn't see that happening myself. All the morphine did to me was make me sleep like the dead and it also gave me an upset stomach.

I was honestly glad to be rid of the morphine as I found it just made me feel more ill. Once my oral surgeon thought I was well enough, he switched me to an over-the-counter pain killer. The transition was welcome as I no longer slept for hours on end or felt nauseated.

amysamp
Post 8

I have never had to take morphine, but my husband had to take some significant pain killers after he had a tonsillectomy. It turns out when you have tonsillectomy as an adult it is a very painful situation (as one of my female friends warned him, "It's worse than child birth!")

So as I mentioned he was given such heavy painkillers, we discussed with the doctor our fear of him becoming addicted to them. The doctors said that because he would be in so much pain, the painkillers would just take the edge off the pain and not give him the euphoric sensations that would cause addiction.

Boy, were they right! My husband was in tremendous pain, and never once felt euphoria from the drugs.

However, I realize had he had a different dosage (too high I guess) he could have felt euphoria from it and become addicted, as it seems no one would argue that prescription painkillers being addicted is *not* a well known con to taking them.

So I would suggest talking to a doctor about your fears of painkiller addiction as they can do a great job of assuaging those fears with their knowledge.

myharley
Post 7

When my grandfather was in the end stages of prostate cancer, he was taking morphine for his pain. Because this was a terminal disease, and he was at the point where they were just trying to make him comfortable and ease his pain, they were not as concerned with him becoming addicted to it.

At that point he knew he was addicted to it, but did not have long and the morphine was the only thing that really worked for him.

I can see how it might be a difficult decision to make if you still had good quality of life and were able to drive and get around. It is a very strong drug with some potent side effects that you must weigh before beginning treatment.

wavy58
Post 6

@seag47 - I am currently taking those long-acting pills. I have to be very careful with them. My doctor told me never to break, crush, chew, dissolve, or split the pills, because they contain enough of the drug to last from 12 to 24 hours, and if they are broken open, my body could absorb the whole dose at once. I could die if this happened.

I am supposed to swallow them whole with a full glass of either juice or water. I can take them with food, but it doesn’t really matter, because I am so nauseated most of the time that I don’t notice if taking them without food causes any extra stomach discomfort.

I have noticed that the capsules cause constipation. My doctor told me what laxative to take to prevent it, and I have to take it all the time.

seag47
Post 5

When my nephew’s cancer progressed to late stage, he began taking morphine. He had to take both the sustained release form that acts for a longer period and the short-acting form for quick pain relief.

He took the long-acting form regularly for continuous relief from chronic pain. He took the quick-acting kind when the pain would occur in spite of him being on the sustained release drug. The short-acting form is also known as rescue medicine because of its ability to offer relief in a hurry.

The sustained release kind comes in either tablets or capsules. The quick-relief type comes in liquid form.

kylee07drg
Post 4

Severe back pain after surgery drove my friend to become addicted to morphine. He had a supply of pills to last him several weeks, but after that, he had trouble getting his doctor to prescribe him more. The doctor wanted to knock him down to a weaker pain pill, so he went into withdrawal.

He started having nightmares about a black monster trying to eat him. He would wake up soaked with sweat. During the day, he kept a bad headache, and he would shake to the point that he could not hold a glass of water. He finally had to seek professional help.

shell4life
Post 3

My best friend’s father was in his nineties and in a lot of pain before he died. His pain had gotten so bad that they had to keep him on morphine, because when he would come down off of it, he would scream and shake.

The family knew that he was ready to go. They were mentally prepared for his death, which seemed prolonged. He went through a cycle of being doped up, suffering greatly, and getting doped up again.

They suspect that the doctor may have finally administered a fatal dose of morphine to relieve him of his suffering. They never asked him, and I’m sure he would not have admitted it, but my friend’s father did go peacefully after his last dose.

Moldova
Post 2

@BrickBack -I know what you mean. I had a tooth extraction surgery and was given vicodin for my pain. I never even took one pill because I am also afraid of developing a dependency to the drug.

You always hear about people that develop addictions to pain killers and this is usually one that is always mentioned. Sometimes people take double or triple the dosage because they feel they will get more relief that way but what it does is develop a dependency of the drug and it can be really dangerous.

This is how famed radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh developed an addiction to oxycontin. He had back surgery and developed so much pain that he doubled up on the amount that he was supposed to take and and became addicted.

His hearing loss and the fact that he needed cochlear implants in order to be able to still perform his job was a direct result of this oxycontin abuse.

BrickBack
Post 1

I have never have needed to take morphine, but based on this article it is not something that most people should take unless it is for end of life care.

My mother was given morphine for her extreme pain due to the stage 4 uterine cancer that she developed. At the point where she was given morphine, she was already in a coma and at the end of her life.

My mother never liked pain killers in general because she was so afraid of becoming addicted. I remember that she had broken her leg once and she refused to take her pain medication because she was afraid of developing a dependency to the drug. She instead took over the counter aspirins that helped dull the pain a little.

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