Commercial production of morphine started in the 19th century when it was introduced as a moderate to severe pain reliever. Initially, it gained a reputation as a useful tool in treatment opium addiction, but later turned out to be even more addictive than opium. Since then, morphine has gained a notorious reputation as one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs, with widespread addiction across the United States.

What Is Morphine?

Morphine is an opiate compound derived from the opium poppy plant. Morphine is one of the most powerful narcotic opioids derived from the opium poppy plant. It is the golden standard for pain killers, and it works by blocking pain sensations and calming the central nervous system, slowing blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration to give a sense of pleasure and calm. Morphine borrows its name from Morpheus, the Greek God of dreams, mainly because it gives the user a euphoric feeling often described as a dreamlike sensation.

Morphine is a federally designated schedule II drug and it’s prescribed for pain that requires daily, around-the-clock treatment, including cancer-related pain and post-surgery pain. However, this substance runs a high risk of morphine addiction and abuse because it’s relatively easy to access and it gives a feeling of euphoria.

History of Morphine

Ever since humans discovered the medicinal and recreational effects of the opium poppy plant, they have used it extensively across the centuries, especially in Asia where the plant is native. During the industrialization age, many Asians took advantage of the improved transportation network and migrated to America, bringing with them opium which was so common in their countries. Abuse and usage of opium as a pain reliever continued, and addiction rose to shocking levels in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A solution was thus urgently needed to mitigate the addictive effects of opium, while maintaining its positive medicinal properties. Between 1805 and 1816, a pharmacist assistant named Friedrich Wilhelm Serturner managed to isolate a yellowish-white crystalline compound from crude opium. After testing very small doses of the compound on himself, he discovered that it had the effects of pain relief and euphoria. He named this compound morphine after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus.

By the mid 19th century, morphine was commercially produced and highly praised as a miracle drug that doctors could prescribe to injured soldiers during the American Civil War. It was effective in its job, but after the war, it was discovered that veterans who had used morphine had developed morphine addiction.

The drug was also gaining traction as an alternative to opium in pain relief and as a substitute for opium to treat opium addiction. The perfection of the first hypodermic needle in 1853 provided a new way of introducing morphine directly into the bloodstream. Due to the refined form of the drug, morphine proved to be 10 times more effective in comparison to opium in relieving pain. However, one major problem arose. Its addictive properties also turned out to be exponentially enhanced, posing a new challenge that needed to be mitigated: morphine addiction.

Morphine sulfate tablets were thus developed and introduced to address the risk of dependence observed among individuals who needed morphine for pain relief. These tablets released morphine into the body in smaller doses at a time and were seen as a solution to the stubborn stain of morphine addiction and dependence. Today, morphine sulfate tablets are prescribed for the management of pain which is severe enough to require an opioid analgesic, but for which alternative treatments are inadequate.

What Does Morphine Look Like?

Morphine is, by nature, a crystalline compound. In its medical application though, it has taken various forms and states depending on the pharmaceutical company that has manufactured it and the mode of administration.

Morphine sulfate pills are manufactured in different shapes, sizes and colors. Some tablets are round in shape, while others take an oval/elliptical shape. There are also capsule-shaped morphine sulfate tablets. The color and shape notwithstanding, one common feature of all morphine sulfate tablets is that they must indicate their dosage content in milligrams on the face of the tablet.

Morphine Street and Brand Names

Morphine goes by a varied number of names, both in terms of brand names and slang names applied in the streets. Some of the common brand names under which morphine is produced and marketed are:

  • Roxanol
  • Kadian ER
  • Morphine Sulfate ER
  • MS Contin
  • Morphabond
  • Embeda

In the streets, it is impossible to list all the names that are used in reference to a drug. However, some of the names that are commonly used in reference to morphine include:

  • Monkey
  • Dreamer
  • White Stuff
  • Aunti Em
  • Aunti
  • Morph
  • Drone
  • TNT
  • Tango and Cash
  • Dance Fever
  • Murder 8
  • Goodfella

Proper Dosage Amounts

Just like every other prescriptive drug, there are some recommended dosage amounts while taking morphine. However, these recommendations can vary from one individual to the other depending on the purpose of the administration of morphine. Initial administration of immediate-release morphine sulfate should be in the dosage range of 15 mg to 30 mg for every four hours as needed for pain. Care should be taken to avoid overdosing, as an overdose of morphine can have devastating effects or even turn fatal. Morphine sulfate still carries a high risk of developing reliance, dependence or even morphine addiction. Federally designated as a Schedule II drug, care should be taken when administering the drug, with strict monitoring to ensure that an individual is weaned off the drug gradually at the first sign of morphine addiction or dependence.

Is Morphine Addictive?

“Is morphine addictive?” is a commonly asked question regarding this substance. Yes, morphine addiction is certainly a possibility. Morphine is categorized as a Schedule II substance under the by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) under the Department of Justice. A Schedule II substance is defined by the DEA as; …..drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. For this reason, morphine should be taken strictly under prescription. Even then, close supervision by a medical doctor is required as the risk of developing dependence is still present. The risk of developing morphine addiction and dependence is so high that it does not require prolonged use. Morphine addiction can develop within the first few times of taking the drug in any form.

Morphine Addiction Statistics

According to statistics available on the Addiction Center Website, which is also backed up by data availed by the Global Information Network About Drugs (GINAD), in the recent past, more than half of the accidental deaths in the U.S. have been caused by morphine and heroin. More than 10 percent of the U.S. population admitted to having used morphine within their lifetime. The number of people who struggled with morphine addiction and were admitted to hospital emergency rooms increased by one 106 percent between 2004 and 2008. With the situation being that dire a few years ago, it is sad that all indicators point to even greater numbers in morphine addiction in the current times.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Nathan Jakowski, PharmD
Nate Jakowski is a clinical pharmacist specializing in drug information and managed care. He completed his Doctor of Pharmacy degree at the University of Wisconsin. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.