What is morphine?
Morphine is a strong painkiller. It belongs to a group of drugs called opiates and works very well on most types of pain. It is also sometimes used to control feelings of breathlessness.
Forms of morphine
Morphine can be given in several ways. Most patients take morphine in tablet, capsule or liquid form:
- MST is a slow-release tablet form of morphine which lasts for 12 hours. It also comes in granules for people who find it difficult to swallow.
- MXL is a tablet which lasts for 24 hours.
- Sevredol is a short-acting tablet which lasts about four hours.
- Oramorph is a liquid form, which is useful for someone who cannot swallow tablets. It also lasts about four hours.
- Diamorphine is given by injection.
- Fentanyl can be prescribed as a patch where the medicine is absorbed through the skin. This is good for someone who cannot swallow medicines or who has difficulty remembering to take medicines at the correct time. It is also less constipating than some other forms of morphine.
When someone takes morphine the pain should get better very quickly, although it may take a little while to find the right dose. Morphine is a strong drug, so a smaller dose may be provided first to allow the body to get used to it.
There is no limit to how long morphine can be taken. It is quite safe to take it for as long as needed. However, if a patient finds they have less pain, their doctor can gradually reduce the dose.
If morphine is taken for pain as prescribed, overdose does not occur.
Taking morphine for pain will not make someone an addict. Once the right dose for the pain has been reached, someone will not need a bigger dose unless there is more pain.
Patients should not stop taking morphine suddenly, as it is a strong medication and the body need time to adjust.
Morphine works well on most types of pain, but some types of pain need different painkillers so a combination of painkillers may be needed.
Other opiates can be used for the control of pain, and may be prescribed by a doctor.
Morphine can lead to constipation. A doctor will often prescribe a daily laxative to start at the same time as the morphine.
Morphine can make people feel sleepy and/or sick for the first few days while they are getting used to it. This should only last a few days, and a doctor can prescribe something to stop the sickness.
Driving and travelling
Patients are usually advised not to drive while getting used to strong painkillers. Check with a doctor whether it is safe to drive once the dose is stable.
It is usually possible to take morphine orally while travelling or going away on holiday. Diamorphine is not permitted in the US and other countries may have similar regulations. If travelling abroad, seek advice from Customs and Excise. You should also get a letter from your doctor about the drugs and keep any medications in your hand luggage.