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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

  • Morphine is an opioid medicine prescribed for severe pain when other pain-relief medicines are not effective or cannot be used.
  • If you take morphine regularly, stopping suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms.
  • Always take morphine exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
  • If your pain is not well controlled by morphine, or you have any unexpected or unwanted side effects, see your doctor.

What is morphine?

Morphine is a strong opioid medicine only available with a prescription from your doctor.

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

What is morphine used for?

Morphine is used to relieve severe pain, such as pain caused by:

Morphine should only be used when other forms of pain relief have not been successful in managing pain or if you are not able to take them (for example, because of side effects or because your doctor says you cannot take it together with another medicine that you are taking).

How does morphine work?

Morphine 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 morphine are available?

Morphine comes in different dosages, and different forms including:

  • tablets
  • capsules
  • oral liquid
  • injection

Some formulations work immediately, while others work more slowly. All formulations of morphine are only available on prescription from your doctor.

How do I take morphine?

It is important to follow the directions that your doctor or pharmacist gives you.

Your doctor will write the recommended dosage on your prescription.

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

What are the possible side effects of taking morphine?

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

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

Other side effects of morphine are similar to those of other opioids, and include:

Morphine affects everyone differently — you may have all, some or none of these side effects. If your pain is not well managed while taking morphine, or if you notice morphine is 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 morphine?

Morphine is a strong pain-relief medicine and can cause life-threatening breathing problems.

Morphine may make it difficult for you to drive or operate heavy machinery. If you have recently started taking an opioid medicine, or changed the 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 morphine.

There are other factors that may limit your use of morphine — 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 morphine is the right medicine for you, how much you need and how long to take it for. Your doctor will also guide you through when and how to stop taking morphine.

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

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

You can also develop tolerance when you take morphine. This means that you may 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 morphine suddenly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

Opioid overdose

If you take too much morphine (known as an overdose), it’s important to get immediate medical attention. Overdose of opioid medicines can cause you to stop breathing.

Symptoms of overdose include:

  • feeling sleepy
  • difficulty breathing
  • loss of consciousness

If a person is not breathing, if they are unresponsive, or if you are concerned about an overdose of morphine or any opioid-containing medicine, seek help straight away. Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Are there any alternatives to morphine?

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.

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

If you have chronic (long-term) pain, your doctor might suggest lifestyle changes to help manage the effects of pain. 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 by taking morphine, or you have any unexpected or unwanted 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 morphine 'just in case', as this can lead to dangerous or inappropriate use.

Keep morphine 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 morphine to read the consumer medicine information (CMI) leaflet for the brand prescribed. You can also:

  • 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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