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Morphine

Find out what morphine is, how you have it and other important information about taking this painkiller. 

What is it

Morphine is a type of painkiller called an opioid. You can only get it on prescription from your doctor and you have it for moderate to severe pain.

Morphine is also called: 

  • Morphgesic SR
  • MXL
  • Zomorph
  • MST
  • Sevredol
  • Oramorph

How it works

Opioids are strong drugs similar to natural pain killing substances made in our body called endorphins. They were originally made from opium poppies, but are now man made in the laboratory. 

Opioids block pain messages from travelling along the nerves to the brain. 

How you have it

Morphine is available in different forms such as tablets, liquids, injections, suppositories or stick on patches.

Your doctor or specialist nurse will help you choose the type and dose that best controls your pain. It dependes on the pain you have and the amount of drug you need to control it. 

You may feel drowsy when you first start taking morphine or if the dose is increased. If the drowsiness lasts more than a couple of days talk to your doctor or nurse. 

You shouldn't just stop taking morphine. It is likely that you need to slowly reduce the amount you take. Always talk to your doctor or specialist nurse before you change your dose.

Morphine tablets or capsules

Many people take morphine as tablets or capsules. You take them with a glass of water, with our without food. 

There are different types and doses of morphine. They come in different colours to help you tell the doses apart. There are also different brands of morphine. Common types include Sevredol and Oromorph (short acting) or MST Continus and MXL (long acting).

Short acting morphine

Short acting tablets last for 2 to 4 hours per dose. Most people start on a short acting morphine tablet or liquid. This is because it is easier and quicker to adjust the dose. 

Once your pain is under control, you will probably change to a long acting (or slow release) tablet or capsule.

Long acting morphine

Long acting morphine lasts from 12 to 24 hours per dose. You take it either once or twice a day. 

If you are taking it twice a day, you should take it in the morning and at night, for example at 8am and 8pm. 

It is important that you take morphine regularly, even if you don't feel pain. The slow release tablets or capsules can take up to 48 hours to give you a steady dose. So if you stop and start, they won't work so well. 

Liquid morphine

Liquid morphine comes as a syrup or as a powder that you dissolve in water. 

There are different brands of liquid morphine such as Oramorph (short acting) and MST Continus suspension (long acting powder for dissolving in water). 

Morphine suppositories

Morphine suppositories contain morphine inside a soft, waxy substance that is put into the back passage (rectum). The morphine is absorbed quickly into the lining of the rectum and goes into the bloodstream. 

This is a fast way of getting drugs into your body and is helpful if eating and drinking are a problem. 

How to put the suppository into your back passage

It is easiest if you lie on your side with your knees up and towards your chest. You can choose whichever side is easiest for you. 

You should push the suppository in about 2cm (an inch) and wash your hands afterwards. If you are worried about it staying in, it can help to lie still for a few minutes afterwards. You need to avoid going to the toilet for at least an hour. 

Morphine injections

When you can't swallow or are feeling sick, you can have morphine as an injection. There are different ways of having morphine injections such as under the skin (subcutaneous), into a muscle (intramuscular) or into a vein (intravenous). 

Injection under the skin (subcutaneous injection)

You may have morphine injections under the skin into your: 

  • stomach
  • thigh
  • upper arm

You might have stinging or a dull ache for a short time after this type of injection, but they don't usually hurt much. The skin in the injection site may also go red and itchy for a while. 

Some people have morphine under the skin continuously through a small needle connected to a pump called a syringe driver. It gives a continuous small volume of morphine. 

Your nurse will change the syringe driver every 24 or 48 hours. This way of having morphine is helpful for people who find it difficult to swallow.  

Injection into a muscle (intramuscular injection)

Some drugs are injected into a muscle. You usually have it in your buttocks or upper thigh. 

This type of injection usually starts controlling pain within a few minutes. You may have stinging or a dull ache for a short time after this type of injection. 

Injections into a vein (intravenously injection)

You can have morphine into your bloodstream. You usually have it through a thin, short tube (a cannula) put into a vein in your arm or the back of your hand. Or you may have it through a central line, a portacath or a PICC line.

These are long, plastic tubes that give the drug directly into a large vein in your chest.  

Side effects

Important information

Other medicines, foods and drink

Cancer drugs can interact with some other medicines and herbal products. Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies.

Pregnancy and contraception

This drug may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to take this drug if you are pregnant. Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment.

Breastfeeding

Don’t breastfeed during this treatment because the drug may come through in your breast milk.

Tolerance and addiction

People taking morphine for weeks or months can develop a physical dependence on the drug. This causes withdrawal symptoms if the drug is stopped. 

Your doctor or nurse will advise you how to reduce the morphine dose gradually if necessary. Don't stop taking morphine suddenly. 

Some people can also develop a psychological dependence (addiction) to morphine. This may be more likely in people who have problems with alcohol or drug use. 

Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse if you are worried about becoming addicted to morphine.

More information about this treatment

For further information about this treatment go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website.

You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.

Information and help

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