What is a Morphine Pump?

Laura Evans

A morphine pump is designed to dispense small amounts of morphine directly into the spine. Also called an intrathecal morphine pump, this surgically-implanted pump is used to treat chronic pain. Using a morphine pump instead of taking morphine orally reduces the total amount of morphine that a patient takes on a daily basis.

Morphine was used as a general anesthetic and pain reliever during the Civil War.
Morphine was used as a general anesthetic and pain reliever during the Civil War.

The word “morphine” is derived from the Greek god Morpheus, the god of dreams. One of the early medical uses of morphine, an addictive narcotic, was to treat opium addition. During the Civil War in the United States and the Franco-Prussian War in Europe, morphine was used as a general anesthetic as well as for pain relief. Many soldiers returned home addicted to the drug. Addicted Civil War veterans were said to have the “army disease.” Ultimately, possessing morphine without a prescription became a crime in the US beginning in 1914 with the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act.

Morphine is derived from the opium poppy.
Morphine is derived from the opium poppy.

Many people feel the effects of endorphins after exercising. Endorphins make a person feel euphoric as well as diminish any pain the person may be feeling. Enkephalins also help kill feelings of pain. In addition, enkephalins can cause drowsiness. Both endorphins and enkephalins are natural molecules that are routed through a group of receptors in the spinal cord or in the brain stem to help prevent pain and anxiety. Morphine, whether injected or taken orally, uses these same receptors to block pain and enhance feelings of pleasure. Although patients who take morphine may still feel pain, the pain does not bother the patients as much.

Morphine blocks pain and enhances feelings of pleasure.
Morphine blocks pain and enhances feelings of pleasure.

The more morphine a person takes, the more likely the person is to become tolerant of the drug. This means that the patient may have to take more morphine to kill the same amount of pain over time. Additional side effects of morphine consumption include constipation, lack of appetite, confusion, and lack of coordination. A patient can experience withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, muscle twitching, and anxiety if the patient stops taking morphine suddenly or misses a prescribed dosage.

A morphine pump can greatly reduce the amount of morphine that a patient has to take for pain control. If a patient can successfully pass an intrathecal morphine test in a pain clinic, a patient who might normally take 75 milligrams (mg) of morphine by mouth on a daily basis may be able to reduce the amount to 1 mg per day via a pump. The overall amount of morphine that a patient takes is adjusted by a qualified physician on an individual basis. Even when using a pump, a patient may need additional medication for pain management.

One of the affects of morphine is constipation.
One of the affects of morphine is constipation.

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Discussion Comments


OK, my wife (who is 27) is being referred for one of these. She has chronic pancreatitis. She has been on a high level of morphine based oral tablets for nearly five years now.

We are told the pump holds a small amount of morphine, which is inserted in a pocket in your abdomen (not to easy to get robbed). The morphine then transfers down a catheter to the desired infusion site. When it starts to run low, your hospital tops it up.

Regarding getting addicted, we have always been told, as long as you're taking it for it's intended purposes, you do not become addicted in the same way as someone who does not need it (however, you do become dependent on it).

Also, through this method of infusion, the amount of morphine required is less than what you take orally, as it goes directly to the desired location (thus, the side effects are less severe).

Also, I do hope she is not being referred for this as she is looking terminal! This is not what we're told. This is about as much as we know at the minute, as it's only just been suggested today.


1 mg? What does that equal to to as an oral dose. Not all of the oral dose gets absorbed. My Dad is on one and he just sleeps most of time so I am suspicious that this just isn't just another form of addiction because he can change the dose by himself.


@Anon134844 – I think you’re probably right about being able to get addicted to morphine if you’re on a pain pump. I wonder though if the reason it isn’t a big concern is that people who have these kinds of medications are probably in or close to a terminal situation. Now, I don’t know that for a fact, but that’s what I would lean to. A morphine pump that is used for an extended period of time is probably for people who really just need to be made comfortable before they pass on. At least, I would think that it would be reserved for something serious like terminal cancer pain.


Under what kind of severe pain would a person have to be under to use a morphine pump all of the time? Is it just for back pain, or can it be for other kinds of pain? Also, I wonder if this is something that is an option outside of a medical environment. It seems like it could be dangerous to have that kind of medication for an extended amount of time in a person’s home. I mean, if the wrong kind of people found out the person who needs could get robbed or even killed for that kind of drug. It seems like a scary option to me, but I guess if people are hurting that bad they need some kind of relief.


I was told you could not get addicted to morphine administered by a pump. I do not think this is true. To kill pain morphine works in the brain and this is the way to get addicted too.

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