Morphine, or morphine sulfate, is one of the most well-known opioids. Although it is a helpful drug that is commonly prescribed to treat pain, it can also be problematic. On the one hand, morphine is a critical and life-saving medication. Morphine and drugs like it allow for surgery and more invasive procedures that could not be performed centuries ago. On the other hand, morphine and its chemical cousins have devastated the United States during the ongoing opioid epidemic

Opioids like morphine are highly addictive substances that can lead to devastating and life-changing effects. Fortunately, treatment is available and recovery is possible at professional rehab centers like The Recovery Village Columbus.

What Is Morphine?

Morphine is an opioid that relieves pain by activating mu-opioid receptors on the surface of nerve cells. Once activated, mu-opioid receptors stop us from perceiving pain. However, morphine also triggers the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain’s reward circuit. This creates feelings of pleasure, which is the source of morphine’s addictive potential.

Although it is addictive, morphine is less potent than opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl.

What Is Morphine Used For?

Morphine is FDA-approved to treat a variety of conditions, including

  • Acute pain, including pain that occurs from heart attack or childbirth
  • Chronic pain
  • Acute pulmonary edema, a type of fluid build-up in the lungs
  • Neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome

What Does Morphine Look Like?

Because morphine tablets and capsules have a variety of manufacturers, their appearance varies widely in terms of size, shape, color and markings. An online pill identifier can help you determine if a medication is morphine. If you have questions about a drug you suspect may be morphine, you should speak with your pharmacist.

Is Morphine Addictive?

As a Schedule II controlled substance, morphine has a high addiction potential. This poses a great risk to the 1.76 million Ohioans who were prescribed morphine in 2020 alone. In 2019, 70,630 Americans died of a drug overdose, including 4,251 Ohioans. Around 70% of these deaths were related to opioids like morphine.

Despite these staggering numbers, morphine addiction is treatable, and people with previous addictions often go on to live normal and stable lives. Early treatment can be especially effective for recovery, so it’s helpful to be aware of potential warning signs of addiction. Early signs may include:

  • Changes in behavior
  • Spending time with new friends instead of old ones
  • Problems with friends or family
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Missing school or work
  • Spending excessive time trying to obtain morphine
  • Going to different doctors or pharmacies to get morphine

Morphine Abuse

Approximately 7.8% of people aged 12 or older misuse their morphine prescriptions. This represents about 0.2% of the American population as a whole. 

People may abuse the drug by taking it without a prescription or more often than prescribed. Some may try to crush the drug into powder and then snort or inject it. Drug manufacturers have tried to combat this by creating abuse-deterrent formulations of morphine, making the drug more difficult to inject.

Morphine Is a Schedule II Narcotic

Morphine is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule II controlled substance. This means it has a recognized medical use but a high potential for abuse, addiction and dependence. For this reason, Ohio restricts the amount of morphine and other opioids that a doctor can prescribe someone.

In Ohio, a person who has morphine that is not prescribed to them may be guilty of aggravated possession of drugs. Depending on the amount of morphine, this can be a misdemeanor or felony and can result in probation or jail time.

There are a number of morphine street names over the years, such as:

  • M
  • Miss Emma
  • Monkey
  • White stuff

Morphine Dosage

Morphine doses vary greatly based on the opioid tolerance of the person taking it. For example, a typical starting dose for someone who has never taken an opioid is 10 mg by mouth every four hours as needed for pain.

In general, the lowest effective dose is used for the shortest possible duration. This is done to minimize the risk of addiction. Tolerance to morphine can also develop quickly, meaning that people may need higher doses of morphine to achieve the same results they did originally. This can be dangerous, as taking higher doses can increase the risk of overdose.

How Is Morphine Administered?  

Morphine can be given in different ways, such as

  • Orally with quick-release tablets, long-acting tablets/capsules or liquids
  • Rectally 
  • Via injection into the skin, muscle, vein or the area near the spinal column

The way that morphine is administered can impact how often the drug needs to be taken. For example, quick-release morphine tablets are often prescribed to be taken every four hours, while long-acting alternatives are prescribed to be taken every eight to 12 hours.

Morphine Side Effects

Like all drugs, morphine has side effects. In morphine’s case, side effects are similar to those of other opioids. Common morphine side effects include:

  • Dizziness
  • Visual disturbances
  • Mental clouding 
  • Depression
  • Sedation
  • Coma
  • Euphoria
  • Low mood
  • Weakness
  • Faintness
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness
  • Seizures
  • Delirium
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Itching

A common and dangerous side effect of opioid abuse is overdose. An overdose is a medical emergency; if you see someone with the following symptoms, administer naloxone (Narcan) if available and call 911 immediately:

  • Small, pinpoint pupils
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Slow or shallow breathing 
  • Choking or gurgling sounds 
  • Limp muscles 
  • Pale, blue or cold skin  

How Long Does Morphine Stay in Your System?

Morphine can stay in your system for varying lengths of time depending on the part of the body that is being tested:

  • Urine: Morphine can show up in urine for up to three days after the last dose
  • Blood: Morphine can be present in blood for up to 6.7 hours after the last dose
  • Hair: A half-inch sample of hair can show the past 90 days of morphine use
  • Saliva: Morphine can turn up in saliva for up to two days after the last dose

Morphine Half-Life

The half-life of a drug is how long the body takes to metabolize half of it. Generally, a drug is completely out of the system after five half-lives. Morphine’s half-life varies depending on the formulation that was given and the way that it was taken. 

Quick-acting morphine typically has a half-life that ranges from 1.5 to 4.5 hours, meaning that it can take up to 22.5 hours to completely remove the drug from your body. Long-acting morphine can have a half-life that ranges from 16.2 to 23.9 hours, meaning it can take up to five days to remove it from your system.

Morphine Detox and Addiction Treatment

Generally, the first step in ending morphine use involves undergoing detox. In a medical detox program, you are monitored and treated for withdrawal symptoms as your body eliminates morphine from its system. However, detox is only the first step in overcoming a morphine addiction, which is why this process is typically followed by inpatient and outpatient rehab. In these treatment programs, you can learn how to avoid future morphine use and address the reasons why you abused the drug in the first place.

The Recovery Village Columbus offers a variety of morphine addiction support options to help you every step of the way. Our full continuum of evidence-based care includes medical detox, inpatient rehab, outpatient treatment and long-term aftercare programming to help you maintain lifelong recovery. 

See More: Morphine Addiction Treatment 

If you or someone you love is struggling with morphine abuse and addiction, The Recovery Village Columbus is here to help. Contact us today to speak with a representative about how professional treatment can help you address your addiction and begin a healthier, drug-free future. 

Jonathan-Strum
Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Jessica-Pyhtila
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more
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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.