Morphine is one of the most commonly used pain relievers for people suffering from moderate or severe pain. It’s also commonly used before surgery. People who develop an addiction to morphine run the risk of suffering severe consequences. Treatment and support are available to help them recover.
Used as early as the Civil War, morphine is one of the most well-known painkillers in the world. Morphine is a naturally-occurring chemical found in the seed pods of the opium poppy plant, and the illicit drug heroin is made using morphine.
Doctors prescribe morphine to treat moderate to severe pain. It can also be used preventatively before surgeries and to aid in anesthesia. Brand name drugs containing morphine include Avinza (discontinued), Kadian and MS Contin.
Morphine changes the way the central nervous system responds to pain. It belongs to the group of drugs called opioids. Morphine can exaggerate the side effects of other drugs and alcohol, so people taking the drug for pain are usually advised to avoid drinking.
Morphine is a Schedule II controlled substance. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies drugs with a medical purpose that have a high potential for abuse and can lead to severe psychological and physical dependence in Schedule II. Drugs that do not have a medical purpose but have a similar likelihood for addiction — such as heroin — are classified in Schedule I.
Doctors usually administer morphine by injection in pill form. When used for extended periods of time, it can lead to physical dependence, but people taking morphine to treat pain do not usually develop an addiction.
Most people obtain morphine from a physician before surgery or from a pharmacy when a doctor prescribes it to treat pain. However, people addicted to opioids seek morphine via illicit methods. The most common ways include buying morphine online from illicit pharmacies or tricking a doctor into prescribing it for pain that doesn’t exist.
Doctor shopping for opioids became popular when the opioid epidemic began in the 2000s. However, morphine is less commonly prescribed for pain today because other opioids, such as oxycodone or hydromorphone, have increased in popularity.
Unlawful pain clinics called pill mills also grew in popularity in the 2000s. Doctors at pill mills carelessly prescribe painkillers, including morphine, to almost anyone who asks for them. But pill mills have become harder to find because of law enforcement crack downs.
Many people resort to drug dealers to find morphine, but the drug is rarely as pure as the drugs prescribed by doctors. It may be mixed with other opioids or substances. Drug dealers get morphine from traffickers who grow opium. Opium poppies secrete sap that is synthesized into morphine and sold illegally. This morphine can also be turned into heroin through chemical reactions.
It is possible for individuals to create morphine on their own, but the chemistry required to create the drug is complex. In the United States, it’s more difficult to grow and traffic opium than it is to find morphine on the street. A miniscule number of people attempt to create it on their own.
People who abuse morphine are much more likely to develop an addiction than people who take it as prescribed by a doctor. When the body is exposed to morphine for long periods of time, the brain begins to crave the presence of the drug. When a person doesn’t consume the drug, the brain reacts negatively — a reaction called withdrawal. Doctors will usually taper a patient’s dosage of morphine to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction causes people to continue taking morphine despite its harmful effects. The person no longer needs the drug to treat pain, but they may think they do. Many people addicted to morphine don’t take the drug to treat pain. They take it to avoid withdrawal.
The illicit drug heroin is converted to morphine in the body when it enters the brain. Morphine acts on the pain and reward systems in the brain. The dangerous side effects of the drug occur because the brain stem reacts to opioids and it controls critical components of the body such as blood pressure and respiration.
People who abuse morphine are more likely to suffer dangerous side effects of the drug, especially those who take it in high doses or inject it intravenously.
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Doctors are careful when determining the dosage of morphine to give to a patient because the drug can cause severe side effects in high doses. When taken as prescribed, morphine usually causes pain relief, decreased hunger and decreased cough.
Common side effects of morphine include:
The symptoms of prescription drug abuse are much more serious. Overdosing on morphine can lead to death from severely depressed breathing, but a drug called naloxone can reverse the effects of morphine overdose if it is administered quickly.
Other symptoms of abusing morphine include:
People diagnosed with morphine addiction suffer other problems associated with long-term addiction. They may make risky decisions in attempts to get drugs. Their work performance and relationships may suffer as morphine becomes the number one priority in their life. They may switch to other dangerous drugs, such as heroin, if they are unable to obtain morphine.
Recovering from morphine addiction requires treatment, which begins with detox from the drug. Treatment centers provide supervised detox to make the experience as comfortable as possible. Some medication, including methadone and buprenorphine, can ease opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Untreated symptoms of morphine withdrawal include:
Withdrawal is different for everyone, and the severity of symptoms depends on the severity and length of addiction. After morphine detox, clinicians offer clients a variety of behavioral therapies to help them learn how to live without the drug. Clinicians also introduce them to support groups and resources that help them adjust to life without morphine.