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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 strong 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 not been effective or cannot be used.
  • Hydromorphone is not the same as morphine — it is much more potent (stronger), so take care not to confuse the two.
  • Always take hydromorphone exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Don’t stop taking hydromorphone suddenly, as you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

What is hydromorphone?

Hydromorphone is a strong opioid pain medicine available on prescription from your doctor.

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 not been effective or cannot be used. It is more potent (stronger) than morphine and should only be used with specialist medical care.

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. It reduces feelings of pain by interrupting the way nerves signal pain between the brain and the body.

What forms of hydromorphone are available?

Hydromorphone comes in different dosages and forms including:

  • tablets
  • oral liquid
  • injections

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

How do I take hydromorphone?

It is important to follow the directions given to you by your doctor or pharmacist. Your doctor will write the recommended dosage on your prescription.

If you have been taking hydromorphone for more than a short while, it is also important not to suddenly stop taking this medicine. You should gradually reduce the amount you are taking – under the supervision of your doctor. This will help to reduce your risk of having withdrawal symptoms.

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. 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. Hydromorphone may make you feel drowsy, and make it difficult for you to drive or operate heavy machinery. If you have recently started taking an opioid medicine or changed dosage, you may be at a 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.

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.

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

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.

Opioid dependence

People who take hydromorphone may become dependent on this medicine if they take it regularly, even if they take it exactly as prescribed and for a short time only. Your doctor will monitor how you use hydromorphone to reduce your risk of harm, including through misuse, abuse and addiction.

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.

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

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. You may also 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 stronger, which means it can be much more dangerous if taken inappropriately. Take care not to confuse hydromorphone with morphine.

Your doctor may prescribe hydromorphone if other pain medicines, such as morphine, are not effective or if you have side effects.

Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before making any change to the dosage or type of medicine you take.

If you have chronic (long-term) pain, your doctor might suggest lifestyle changes to help manage the discomfort. This may include:

Find out more 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', as this can lead to dangerous or inappropriate use.

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

Resources and support

Asking about your treatment or medicine is important to help you understand your options. Here's a guide to questions you should ask your pharmacist or doctor before taking any 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 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: May 2023

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