Fentanyl vs. Morphine

Fentanyl and morphine are two highly potent opioid pain-relievers. Both drugs effectively reduce pain but carry high abuse potentials. Morphine is most often used in hospitals and clinical settings to relieve post-surgical pain, while fentanyl may be prescribed to treat chronic pain including that of terminal cancer.  

When comparing fentanyl vs. morphine, many people question the similarities and differences between these two opioids. They may ask, “Is fentanyl stronger than morphine?” or “What’s the fentanyl to morphine conversion?” This guide can answer your questions, so you can compare fentanyl and morphine effectively.

Fentanyl vs. Morphine

What Is Fentanyl?

Known by its brand names Actiq, Duragesic, Sublimaze, and Ionsys, fentanyl is a highly potent, synthetic opioid analgesic. Because of its potency, it is reserved for the most severe types of pain, including cancer pain. Fentanyl may also be prescribed to people with chronic pain who have an opioid tolerance. When used as directed, fentanyl can be administered via an injection, worn as a transdermal patch or taken as a lozenge.

Like other opioids, fentanyl attaches to the brain’s opioid receptors to block pain signals in the body. Given the potency of fentanyl, it is also highly addictive. If someone takes fentanyl without the approval of a doctor, or for non-medical purposes, the consequences can include addiction, overdose and even death.

These guides can help you understand why fentanyl is so effective, and addictive:

What Is Morphine?

Like fentanyl, morphine is an opioid pain reliever that is used in a clinical setting. It is available as a pill, patch or as an intravenous fluid. Morphine is one of the most well-known and widely used drugs in the pain medicine practice. Medical professionals often use morphine as the benchmark for comparing the strengths of other opioids. Morphine is used in medical environments to treat a wide variety of pain, from moderate to chronic. Morphine may be administered for patients who experience a heart attack, a car accident, broken bones, kidney stones, cancer pain or a surgical procedure.

To relieve pain, morphine causes a flood of dopamine in the brain’s reward center. This can also cause a euphoric high, which makes morphine extremely addictive. People who take morphine for non-medical purposes, or beyond their prescription limits, can easily develop a morphine use disorder.  

Want to know more about morphine? These guides can help:

How Are Fentanyl and Morphine Alike?

When comparing fentanyl vs. morphine, it’s important to note that fentanyl and morphine are similar in numerous ways. Both substances are:

  • Opioids.
  • Prescription drugs.
  • Potent pain relievers.
  • Bind to the brain’s opioid receptors.
  • Available as transdermal patches or injections.
  • Used in a clinical setting.
  • Highly addictive.
  • Capable of causing physical and behavioral withdrawal symptoms.
  • Capable of causing an overdose.
  • Used illegally.

Important Note About Opioids:

Fentanyl and morphine are opioid drugs. They are not to be confused with anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs or over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. Some forms of fentanyl and morphine may be long acting substances but are not designed to reduce fever or depress the nervous system.

Fentanyl vs. morphine overdose comparisons

Overdose Potential Comparisons

Fentanyl and morphine carry high abuse potentials, meaning someone could quickly become addicted to these drugs. Along with the high risk of dependence that fentanyl and morphine carry, both drugs also carry the potential for overdose. This can occur if someone takes increasingly large doses of either drug over time to achieve the same effects.

Because most opioid drugs share the same physical and behavioral side effects, the symptoms of a fentanyl overdose can be very similar to those of a morphine overdose. Fentanyl overdoses and morphine overdoses share many of the same symptoms, including:

  • Dizziness or clumsiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Extreme lethargy.
  • Hypoventilation (slow breathing).
  • Inability to speak.
  • Slow heart rate.
  • Itchiness.
  • Nausea.
  • Pinpoint pupils.
  • Pale skin.
  • Blue-colored lips and fingernails.
  • Unconsciousness or coma.
  • Death.

An important similarity between a fentanyl overdose and a morphine overdose is that they can both be reversed with the same drug. Because fentanyl and morphine are both opioid drugs, an overdose on one or both of these substances can be reversed with Narcan, the brand name of the drug naloxone. Available as a nasal spray and an injection, Narcan can instantly reverse the symptoms of an opioid overdose to save someone’s life.

How Do Fentanyl and Morphine Differ?

When discussing fentanyl vs. morphine, the differences between these drugs must be considered. One of the main differences between fentanyl and morphine is that fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and morphine is a pure opiate derived from the opium poppy plant. As a class of drugs, opioids encompass both manmade opioid drugs and all opiate drugs that are derived from opium.

In terms of forms and applications, morphine is available in many more forms than fentanyl is. Morphine can be prescribed for a wider variety of pain but may not be as useful for people with chronic pain. Fentanyl is not intended to be prescribed for acute pain. Instead, it’s used to treat different types of chronic pain, usually from cancer.

Beyond their uses and forms, one of the most important differences between fentanyl and morphine is their potency. Fentanyl, in any form, is far more potent than any type of morphine. Fentanyl is approximately 100 times stronger than morphine. This makes the use of fentanyl far less common, and more dangerous, than that of morphine.

How Much Stronger Is Fentanyl to Morphine?

Fentanyl and morphine are both opioid drugs, but fentanyl is far stronger than morphine. For perspective, the National Institute on Drug Abuse fentanyl says that fentanyl is approximately 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Because of the strength of fentanyl, even a small amount can lead to an overdose or death. For example, just a quarter of a milligram of fentanyl can kill a person.

When comparing fentanyl vs. morphine the question of, “Is fentanyl stronger than morphine?” often arises. As previously mentioned, fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine. However, it’s important to note that the estimate of fentanyl being 100 times stronger than morphine only considers legitimate prescriptions of fentanyl. Forms of fentanyl that are sold illicitly have the potential to be mixed with other substances and may be even stronger than prescription fentanyl.

Side effects of fentanyl vs heroin

Side Effects of Fentanyl vs. Heroin

Fentanyl and heroin are both opioids, but fentanyl is a prescription drug and heroin is an illegal substance that is not used in any clinical setting. Many people may try to mix fentanyl with heroin to increase the strength of both drugs, but because of the potency of these two opioids, this practice can lead to overdose and death. These two opioids are extremely similar in terms of abuse potential, and in their effects on the brain and body.

Side effects of fentanyl use include:

  • Extreme drowsiness.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Confusion.
  • Nausea.
  • Constipation.
  • Fatigue.
  • Abnormal heart rate.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Insomnia or oversleeping.
  • Itchiness.
  • Pinpoint pupils.
  • Weight loss.
  • Seizure.
  • Unconsciousness.

To be able to spot the symptoms of fentanyl use, read The Recovery Village guide, “How Do I Know If Someone Is on Fentanyl?”

Heroin use can cause many similar side effects, including:

  • Flushed, or rashy, skin.
  • Confusion.
  • Sweating.
  • Slowed or shallow breathing.
  • Constricted pupils.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Lack of coordination.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Increased or slowed heartbeat.
  • Swollen face, tongue, hands, feet or throat.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Seizure.
  • Unconsciousness.

To identify the side effects of heroin use, or overdose, read The Recovery Village guide, “How Do I Know If Someone Is on Heroin?

Fentanyl to morphine conversion

Fentanyl to Morphine Conversion

To highlight how much stronger fentanyl is than morphine, look at a fentanyl to morphine conversion chart. According to palliative treatment charts, the transdermal skin patch of fentanyl is approximately 80 times more potent than a similar form of morphine. This is based on performing a morphine to fentanyl conversion.

When comparing fentanyl vs. morphine and looking at a fentanyl to morphine conversion, any form of fentanyl is much stronger than any form of morphine. For this reason, morphine is typically considered the safer of the two opioids, and morphine has more applications than its stronger counterpart, fentanyl. To further understand the fentanyl to morphine conversion, use an online opioid dose calculator or speak with a physician, pharmacist or other medical professional.

If you struggle with a fentanyl addiction or a morphine use disorder, don’t hesitate to get help. The Recovery Village offers comprehensive rehab treatment locations across the country for drug addiction and co-occurring mental health issues. To get started with treatment for yourself or a loved one, call The Recovery Village at 352.771.2700. The telephone call is toll-free, confidential and you don’t have to commit to a program over the phone.

Fentanyl vs. Morphine
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