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Morphine

6-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

  • Morphine is an opioid prescribed for strong pain when other pain-relief medicines have been ineffective 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 side effects, see your doctor.

What is morphine?

Morphine is an opioid medicine available on 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 a major trauma or surgery, labour pain in childbirth or cancer pain.

Morphine should only be used where other forms of pain relief have not been successful in managing pain or are not tolerated.

How does morphine work?

Morphine 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 in tablet, capsule, granule, oral liquid and injection formulations.

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 first taking 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, so 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.

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

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

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

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

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 reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. A pilot program, funded by the Australian Government, is offering certain individuals in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia this medication (including the nasal spray Nyxoid) free of charge and without a prescription.

Learn more here about the take home naloxone pilot.

Are there any alternatives to morphine?

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.

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 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 by taking morphine, or you have any unexpected side effects, see your doctor.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

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' since this can lead to inappropriate use.

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

  • Call the NPS MedicineWise Medicines Line (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 ScriptWise website.

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

Last reviewed: January 2021


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