How Do Morphine Patches Work?

Morphine Patch

Morphine is the standard by which all other painkillers are judged. And for good reason. As it turns out, morphine was the very first in a long line of pain-relieving medications referred to as opioids and opiates. Its indirect and unrefined use dates back millennia to Eastern civilizations harnessing the medicinal attributes of the opium plant. But, opium proved to be more trouble than it was worth — leading to addictions that brought entire nations to their knees.

As the classic saying goes, “history repeats itself.” In the two hundred years since morphine was discovered outright, it has seemingly revolutionized how medical professionals think about and treat pain. However, the benefits that past societies saw in opium weren’t the only things that have repeated themselves in the modern age. The dangers have since resurfaced, too. Like the opium crises of old, countries today are faced with a crippling epidemic courtesy of morphine and its many successors, namely prescription opioids, heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil.

Dependences, substance use disorders, overdoses and deaths attributed to opioids like morphine are at an all-time high. Each year, thousands of people who consume opioids for medical and recreational purposes fall victim to these compounds. Deaths related to drugs have even overtaken automobile accidents as the leading cause of death in the United States.

Though morphine has been around for centuries, there are new iterations still coming to the market to this day. One new variant is morphine in patch form, which was made available for Norwegian patients back in 2005. Such morphine patches are not yet used in the United States, and it is unclear if they ever will be. Some inaccurately refer to fentanyl patches — made from another more potent opioid — as patches containing morphine instead. This is a common and understandable mistake given the medicines’ similarities to each other. 

Morphine Patch Side Effects | How Do Morphine Patches Work?
Side effects are an unfortunate reality for opioid prescriptions of any kind. But this does not necessarily mean they will be a reality for each and every person who uses them. The best course of action is to always be upfront and transparent with one’s physician. Both morphine and fentanyl patches have similar side effects, ranging from common to rare.


  • Lethargic behavior or mood
  • Redness or itching at the site of patch application
  • Nausea or vomiting spells
  • Uncontrollable sweating, even in cool environments
  • Uncoordinated actions and confusion
  • Painful or irregular bowel movements and black stool

The above episodes are thought to be more uncomfortable than dangerous.


  • Migraines and pressure in the brain cavity
  • Lack of appetite or inability to keep food down
  • Muscle convulsions
  • Double vision
  • Faint heartbeat
  • Labored breathing
  • Fully or partially collapsed lungs
  • Coma
  • Psychological disorders

Rare side effects can lead to loss of consciousness — and life — if not treated in a timely manner. Additionally, patients and their loved ones must be aware of the potential for overdoses. This is especially true when considering fentanyl patches, as this drug is markedly stronger than morphine alone.

One of the chief uses for opioid patches is for the treatment of back pain. Transdermal patches are highly suitable for the alleviation of this discomfort because they can be applied directly to the point of pain.
Patches that contain fentanyl have dosages measured in mcg/hr, or micrograms per hour of bodily absorption. These valuations are exactly 1,000 times smaller than that of a milligram — the traditional measurement of opioids in pill or injectable forms. The available doses of fentanyl patches include: 12 mcg/hr, 25 mcg/hr, 50 mcg/hr, 75 mcg/hr, and 100 mcg/hr.
Along with the abovementioned back pain, transdermal patches are quite often used to treat chronic pain in the elderly community. Physicians see great benefits with patches. They are both noninvasive in nature and allow patients to receive around-the-clock medication without the added burden of a pill schedule.

The side effects of patch use for elderly patients mirror those of all other patients, except there is an additional emphasis on elements dealing with respiratory issues. Older individuals are more susceptible to these conditions.

Patches containing buprenorphine are sometimes used instead of morphine or fentanyl for the elderly. This is because buprenorphine appears to have less unfavorable side effects.

Patches that are intended to treat pain should only be used by patients with a history of prior opioid use. Those who have not — known as opioid-naïve patients — can be seriously harmed or even killed by using this method of pain relief. A morphine pill regimen might be the better decision, though it’s up to a trained medical professional to make this call.
As the term “transdermal” implies, opioid patches are placed on the outermost layer of a patient’s skin. The process is a simple one. Each dose can be self-applied directly where it is needed most.
To reiterate, morphine patches are usually a misnomer when talking about medicine within the United States. Patches containing fentanyl are far more prevalent.
Opioid patches are applied to the skin every 72 hours to treat chronic pain. It is never advisable to break, cut or damage the patches in any way — impaired patches can make the medicine activate inconsistently. The patches should not be swallowed or applied to the mucous membranes of the body for this reason as well. Once placed firmly to the skin, the opioid will emit slowly over the course of 3 days. The cycle continues as necessary until the patient no longer needs treatment.

While opioid patches are medically beneficial for countless people, addiction is still a possibility. If you or someone you know is dependent on opioid patches or other forms of these drugs, a rehabilitation center like The Recovery Village could help. Reach out to an intake coordinator today at  352.771.2700 for more information. 

How Do Morphine Patches Work?
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