Dealing with addiction can be very painful, and not just physically. When you or a loved one suffers from an addiction to painkillers, it can be difficult to seek the proper help you need. When such a huge part of your life depends on taking a drug to feel happy, many people refuse to accept that there are alternatives, both unintentionally and intentionally. Morphine is one of such painkillers and developing an addiction to such a powerful drug is much easier than you would think, and can sometimes prove fatal.
Though morphine is not for everyday use, it is widely used in clinical pain management when dealing with terminal cancer and post-surgery pain. In careful doses, doctor-prescribed morphine can work wonders in treating pain. The problem is that many individuals who receive doses of morphine for legitimate pain do not follow their doctors’ prescribed doses. Continuously misusing the opioid has many more downsides than benefits, and dependency and addiction can form much faster than you would think.
Our country is in the midst of a national emergency of the opioid crisis, and more than 90 Americans are dying each day from opioids (including synthetic opioids such as fentanyl) like prescription painkillers, heroin, and many more. According to an estimate by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), morphine misuse costs the U.S. roughly $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice.
The first step in treating someone who suffers from an addiction or dependency to morphine is to know what morphine really is. Where does it come from? When was it first used? How does it work? These are all questions you should ask yourself when dealing with your or a loved one’s morphine addiction.
Morphine is a potent opioid medication from the opium poppy, and it is used to treat moderate-to-severe pain both in immediate, dire situations (car crash victims in the hospital) and in chronic situations (a terminally ill cancer patient).
Morphine was first made from opium between 1803 and 1805 by German pharmacist Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Sertürner. Sertürner originally named the isolated alkaloid (naturally-occurring chemical compound) “morphium” after the Greek god of sleep, Morpheus, because of its sedative properties. While he continued to investigate the effects of morphine, the drug’s widespread use only began after 1815.
The invention of the hypodermic needle in 1853 exponentially increased morphine use, since it was now able to be measured and administered carefully. Morphine soon replaced opium as the preferred drug for pain relief and was extensively used on injured troops during the American Civil War. Little did they know morphine was highly addictive and had much room for abuse and misuse. After the end of the war, it was reported that more than 40,000 soldiers had become addicted to morphine, and in 1914, use of morphine was outlawed in the United States except when prescribed by a doctor.
Morphine is now available in liquid, pill, and suppository form. Once injected or ingested, morphine acts directly on the central nervous system to relieve pain. It specifically works by binding itself to the opioid receptor, which prevents the receptor from sending pain messages to the brain.
When injected into the vein, the maximum effect is 20 minutes, and when taken by mouth, the effect is 60 minutes; however, the duration of the analgesic effect lasts between three and seven hours.
In 2013, approximately 523,000 kg of morphine were produced, nearly 45,000 kg of which were used directly for pain—a four-fold increased since the previous two decades. Today, morphine is considered a Schedule I drug under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs globally. Additionally, in the United States, morphine is classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substance Act; Class A in the United Kingdom under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and a Schedule 2 controlled Drug under The Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001; In Australia, a Schedule 8 drug under State and Territory Poisons Acts; and in Canada a Schedule I drug.
Morphine is sold under several trade names, some of the most common of which are MS Contin, Morphgesic, Oramorph, Zomorph, Morphine Sulfate ER, Morphine Sulfate IR, Roxanol, and Kadian.
Morphine is most often used as a substitute for heroin on the streets. Sometimes going by the name ‘white lady,’ ‘salt,’ or ‘sugar,’ morphine can come in the form of white pills that are swallowed. These tablets may also be ground down to a white powder, which might either be snorted, dissolved in a liquid, or injected as a solution.
People using morphine according to a doctor’s instruction can still become addicted to the drug, and very quickly at that. Morphine addiction can easily take root in as little as a week, and is especially dangerous to the point where the Global Information Network About Drugs (GINAD) labeled it as “one of the most potent opioid drugs in existence”. Early detection is key in treating someone’s addiction, and while morphine abuse may be difficult to detect, there are some notable signs to look for that can indicate chronic use:
Keep in mind that, in the beginning stages of addiction, someone on morphine may experience flu-like symptoms once dosage is decreased or terminated. The person also may begin vomiting and experience constipation and overall nausea.
Morphine addiction treatment has two distinct phases: the initial physical withdrawal and the psychological therapy and behavioral treatment that needs to continue well into the future.
Morphine withdrawal occurs when long-term users suddenly stop taking the drug. Withdrawal from morphine can be uncomfortable and symptoms can affect a person’s mind, body, and emotional state. As stated above, many of the withdrawal symptoms are similar to that of someone with the flu.
In addition to cramps and flu-like symptoms, users may become more agitated and anxious as they battle depression and almost intolerable drug cravings. A medically supervised detox process is advised to help recovering users keep their withdrawals symptoms managed. Disregarding professional detox and recovery treatment can be dangerous and lead to possible relapse, or may even prove fatal.
At Arete, we believe there is no “one-size-fits-all” treatment method for drug addiction and abuse, and morphine cases are no exception. Instead, our goal is to connect individuals with treatment options that are tailored to their specific needs; we aim to build the program around the individual.
Morphine use can create a high that includes feelings of euphoria and reduced tension, similar to other prescription painkillers. Similarly, it has a high potential for addiction and abuse. Abusers typically chew, crush, snort, or inject the medication when it is in a dissolved form to chase the high they experienced when they first tried morphine.
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Overdose can cause asphyxia and death as a result of respiratory depression if the patient does not receive immediate medical attention. Overdose treatment may include administration of naloxone, which can completely reverse the effects of morphine.
Pregnant women should be aware of the consequences of taking morphine—their infants can become dependent on the drug and inevitably suffer from lifelong withdrawals after birth.
It’s also important to note that morphine should never be mixed with alcohol, muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, and sedatives to avoid dangerous health effects or even fatal consequences.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 04). Addiction Science. Retrieved July 09, 2020 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/addiction-science
Tolerance, Dependence, Addiction: What's the Difference? (n.d.). Retrieved July 09, 2020 from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/tolerance-dependence-addiction-whats-difference