Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


8-minute read

If a person is not breathing, or if they are unresponsive, seek help straight away. Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Key facts

  • Hydromorphone is a potent opioid-based pain medicine that can only be prescribed by your doctor.
  • Hydromorphone is prescribed for the short-term relief of severe pain, where other pain-relief medicines have been ineffective or cannot be used.
  • Hydromorphone is not the same as morphine — it is much more potent. Take care not to confuse the two.
  • Always take hydromorphone exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Don’t stop taking hydromorphone suddenly since you may experience withdrawal effects.

What is hydromorphone?

Hydromorphone is an opioid pain medicine available on prescription from your doctor. It is categorised as a 'potent' opioid.

LOOKING FOR A MEDICINE? — See this list of medicines that contain hydromorphone to find out more about a specific medication.

What is hydromorphone used for?

Hydromorphone is used for the short-term relief of severe pain, where other pain medicines have been ineffective or cannot be used. It is more potent than morphine and should only be used under specialist medical supervision.

Hydromorphone should also be used only when other forms of pain relief have not been successful in managing pain.

How does hydromorphone work?

Hydromorphone works directly on opioid receptors in the central nervous system, and reduces feelings of pain by interrupting the way nerves signal pain between the brain and the body.

It is available as tablets, an oral liquid or injections.

Hydromorphone should only be used in limited circumstances under specialist medical care.

What are the possible side effects of taking hydromorphone?

All opioids, including hydromorphone, can have side effects that include life-threatening breathing problems. The risk of these is higher:

  • when first taking hydromorphone
  • after a dosage increase
  • if you are older
  • if you have an existing lung problem

The side effects of hydromorphone are similar to those of other opioids, and include:

Hydromorphone affects everyone differently, so if your pain is not well managed while taking hydromorphone, or if you notice your medicines are making you feel unwell, speak with your pharmacist or doctor.

Always take medicines exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What are the risks associated with hydromorphone?

Opioids are strong pain-relief medicines and can cause life-threatening breathing problems.

People who take hydromorphone may become reliant on this medicine if they take it regularly, even after a short period of time.

People can also develop tolerance when they take hydromorphone — this means they need to take larger amounts of the opioid to get the same effect. As the dosage increases, so does the risk of side effects.

If you stop taking hydromorphone suddenly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

Hydromorphone may make it difficult for you to drive or operate heavy machinery. If you have recently started taking an opioid medication or changed dosage, you may be at higher risk of having an accident.

If you have kidney problems or your kidney function is impaired, your doctor will need to adjust your dosage of hydromorphone.

WORRIED ABOUT YOUR OPIOID USE? — The Opioid Risk Indicator can help you find out if you may be developing a problem.

There are other factors that may limit your use of hydromorphone — for example, if you drink alcohol or take other medicines that can cause drowsiness.

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on whether hydromorphone is the right medicine for you, how much you need and how long to take it for.

If a person is not breathing, or if they are unresponsive, seek help straight away. Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Access to overdose-reversing medication

Naloxone is a medicine that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The Australian Government is offering this medication free of charge and without a prescription to people who may experience, or witness, an opioid overdose.

Learn more about the Take Home Naloxone program.

Are there any alternatives to hydromorphone?

Remember that everyone's pain is unique and different pain-relief medicines will work in different circumstances. Some people's pain will respond well to non-opioid medicines, and you may find that one opioid helps you manage your pain better and with fewer side effects than another.

Hydromorphone is not the same as morphine — it is much more potent, which means it can be much more dangerous if taken inappropriately. Take care not to confuse hydromorphone with morphine.

Hydromorphone may be prescribed by your doctor, however, if you were troubled by the adverse effects of morphine.

If you have chronic (long-term) pain, your doctor might suggest lifestyle changes to help you manage the discomfort. This may include physical fitness and activity pacing, social activities, relaxation techniques and overall health management.

You can find more information here about options for managing chronic pain.

When should I see my doctor?

If your pain is not well controlled on hydromorphone, or you have any unexpected side effects, see your doctor.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Pain Question Planner to prepare for your doctor’s appointment.

How do I dispose of medicines safely?

It's important you dispose of unwanted opioid medicines safely — unused medicines can be returned to any pharmacy. Don't keep unused hydromorphone 'just in case' since this can lead to inappropriate use.

Keep hydromorphone out of reach of children and pets. Never throw medicines into a garbage bin or flush them down the toilet — this is dangerous to others and harmful to the environment.

Resources and support

Asking about your treatment or medication is important to help you understand your options. Here's a guide to questions to ask your pharmacist or doctor before taking a medicine.

See also this list of medicines that contain hydromorphone to read the consumer medicine information (CMI) leaflet for the brand prescribed, or:

  • Call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) to talk about the medicines you are taking for your pain.

  • Discuss your pain on the Pain Link telephone helpline (1300 340 357) which is staffed by volunteers with personal experience of chronic pain.

  • Got to Painaustralia to find pain services and programs in your area.

  • Learn more about prescription opioids on the Choosing Wisely website.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2021

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Prescription opioids Effects and FAQs | Your Room

Opioids are natural drugs derived from the opium poppy or synthetic drugs, and have a depressant or sedating effect, causing the brain and central nervous system to slow down.

Read more on NSW Health website

Adverse events associated with medium‐ and long‐term use of opioids for chronic non‐cancer pain: an overview of Cochrane Reviews - Els, C - 2017 | Cochrane Library

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

Cancer pain -

Cancer pain doesn’t affect all people with cancer, but for those who do have pain it can be controlled with medicines and other therapies. 

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.