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Fentanyl vs. Morphine: What’s The Difference?

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 29, 2019

While fentanyl and morphine are both highly potent opioids, they do have some differences. A formal treatment program is often the best course of action to overcome addiction to opioids such as fentanyl and morphine.

Morphine and fentanyl are both strong opioid pain relievers. Both drugs work by blocking the pain-relieving receptors in the brain and producing feelings of euphoria. They also cause sedation.

Both of these drugs come with a high potential for abuse and addiction. Morphine is typically administered in a hospital or clinical setting. Fentanyl is most often a prescription drug given to those dealing with chronic pain.

Morphine and fentanyl are two drugs that contribute to the national opioid crisis. More than half of the 64,000 drug-related deaths in 2016 were caused by opioid abuse. It’s estimated that more than 90 U.S. residents suffer an opioid-related death every day.

While both opioids, there are differences between morphine and fentanyl.

What Is Morphine?

Morphine is a strong opioid used to manage moderate to chronic pain in a medical setting. Morphine is primarily given intravenously but is also available as a patch or a pill. Used intravenously, this drug is around three times stronger than its oral forms.

Morphine is an opioid that has been around for years; in fact, it dates back to the early 1800s. It is classified as a Schedule II drug due to its high potential for abuse.

In the medical setting, morphine is used to treat moderate to severe pain that may result from conditions such as cancer, surgery, car accidents, and broken bones. It is also used to compare the strength of other similar pain drugs.

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Morphine works by blocking the pain receptors in the brain, reducing feelings of pain and inducing sedation in some patients. It also produces a flood of dopamine into the brain, creating feelings of intense euphoria. These feelings of euphoria are the primary reason this drug is abused.

Morphine has a much shorter half-life than fentanyl. This means that its effects are felt for a shorter period of time. Withdrawal symptoms are often felt sooner with morphine and can begin six hours after the last dose is taken.

What Is Fentanyl?

Similar to morphine, fentanyl is also an opioid used in the management of severe pain. Brand names for the drug include Ionsys, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. This synthetic opioid analgesic is offered via prescription and is typically reserved for the management of intense and chronic pain.

Fentanyl is available as a transdermal patch and lozenge as well as intravenous injections. Like morphine, fentanyl works by binding to the opioid receptors in the body to block the feelings of pain. It also increases dopamine and produces feelings of euphoria and sedation.

Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid that comes with a high risk of abuse and addiction. Abusing fentanyl can put individuals at for overdose and even death.

Unlike morphine, fentanyl has a half-life of around 17 hours. Individuals will typically begin to feel withdrawal symptoms around 24 hour after the last dose is taken.

How Are Fentalyn And Morphine Similar?

Fentanyl and Morphine are both opioid analgesics that bind to the brain’s opioid receptors. They are used in a clinical setting to relieve chronic and severe pain. Both come with a high risk of abuse and put individuals who use these drugs at risk for addiction.

Both drugs can cause opioid-related side effects that may include:

  • drowsiness
  • fatigue
  • paranoia
  • shallow breathing
  • upset stomach and nausea

Long-term side effects of both drugs may include:

  • gastrointestinal problems
  • low blood pressure
  • loss of muscle coordination
  • muscle weakness
  • bloating in the abdomen
  • constipation
  • irregular or slow heart rate
  • shallow or depressed breathing

The withdrawal symptoms for those who abuse these drugs are also similar. The more someone uses fentanyl or morphine, the more likely he or she is to experience withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms of fentanyl and morphine may include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • muscle cramps or pain
  • trouble sleeping
  • diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems
  • stomach pain
  • increased blood pressure
  • elevated heart rate
  • flu-like symptoms

How Are Fentanyl And Morphine Different?

While very similar, there are differences between morphine and fentanyl. A primary difference is the fact that morphine is an opioid in its purest form and is derived from poppy plants. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, meaning that it is manmade.

Additionally, these two drugs differ in their potency. Fentanyl is an estimated 100 times more potent than morphine and is used significantly less in medically settings than morphine. Its potency makes fentanyl far more dangerous to abuse than morphine and puts individuals at a higher risk of addiction and overdose.

Another difference between these two drugs is the forms they are available in. Morphine is offered in more forms, making it available for a number of different pain levels. Fentanyl is available in fewer forms and is primarily used for the most severe and chronic pain.

Overdose Risk Of Fentanyl And Morphine

When abused, both morphine and fentanyl come with a high risk of overdose. This is in part due to the fact that individuals can build up a tolerance to the drugs. This causes people to take more of the substances to get the same effect.

Fentanyl and morphine overdose can be deadly, symptoms of overdose may include:

  • dizziness
  • extreme fatigue
  • pale skin
  • dilated pupils
  • trouble speaking
  • dangerously low heart rate
  • muscle weakness
  • confusion
  • slow breathing
  • nausea
  • itchiness
  • blue extremities
  • coma
  • death

If you or a loved one is suspected from fentanyl or morphine overdose, it’s important to seek help immediately. Opioid overdose can be extremely dangerous and even deadly.

Getting Help For A Fentanyl Or Morphine Addiction

As seen in the opioid crisis that has swept the nation, fentanyl, morphine, and other opiates are not only addictive but are also dangerous and even deadly. Seeking treatment for a fentanyl or morphine addiction can prevent a number of health problems and possible overdose or death.

Because of the potential withdrawal symptoms of opioids, a medically monitored detox program is often the first step in recovering from a fentanyl or morphine addiction. Detox programs can provide a safe place to recover as well as any medical assistance needed to ease symptoms.

Once a person has successfully detoxed fentanyl or morphine from the body, he or she will likely need a formal treatment program to overcome opioid addiction. Inpatient treatment programs are often the most effective form of treatment for recovering from a fentanyl or morphine addiction.

To learn more about the differences between fentanyl and morphine or to get more information on the treatment options available for opioid addiction, contact our caring treatment specialists today.

MedicineHow - How does fentanyl work?

CDC - Provisional Counts Of Drug Overdose Deaths

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Fentanyl

Drug Policy - What’s the difference between heroin, fentanyl, morphine and oxycodone?

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