Morphine and oxycontin are opioid medications taken for both medical and recreational reasons.
Understanding Morphine & OxyContin
Morphine is a non-synthetic narcotic medication derived from opium. It is used directly as a pharmaceutical product and also processed into other medications, such as codeine.
Morphine is a legal Schedule II drug, according to the Controlled Substances Act. It affects both the body and mind by relieving pain, reducing hunger, and treating severe cough.
OxyContin is a semisynthetic narcotic pain reliever. OxyContin is a brand-name version of oxycodone that is synthesized from thebaine, found in the poppy plant.
Oxycodone produces similar effects on the body and mind as morphine, including pain relief, sedation, and respiratory depression as well as a sense of euphoria. It is prescribed for the treatment of pain and to suppress cough.
How Do These Drugs Work?
Opioids like oxycodone and morphine work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and throughout the body. The receptors are primarily involved with feelings of pain and pleasure. Opioids help by blocking the perception of pain.
In addition to reducing pain, opioids can make people feel happy and relaxed. This pleasurable experience reinforces the use of opioids for many people and can lead to dependence and addiction.
Morphine and OxyContin are two prescription opioids that are commonly misused for recreational purposes. OxyContin played a big role in the rapid rise in opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose in the U.S.
Morphine vs. Oxycontin: Comparing Medications
Morphine and oxycontin are similar in many ways. This table illustrates how the two medications compare:[4-9]
|Drug Class||Opioid (narcotic) analgesic||Opioid (narcotic) analgesic|
|Typical Dose||Immediate- and extended-relief forms available; dosage varies with formulation and level of pain||Immediate- and extended-relief forms available; dosage varies with formulation and level of pain|
|Formulations||Liquid solution, concentrated solution tablets, and capsules||Liquid solution, concentrated solution tablets, and capsules|
|Prescribed Uses||Treatment of moderate to severe pain||Treatment of moderate to severe pain|
|Onset||Within minutes||Within minutes|
|Duration||Immediate-release can be taken every 4-6 hours; extended-release variations are taken every 12 hours||Immediate-release can be taken every 4-6 hours; extended-release variations are taken every 12 hours|
|Potential for Abuse||High||High|
|Safety for Children||Safe to use in children weighing at least 110 pounds (tablets) and 2 years old (oral solution)||Not safe for children under 11 years old|
|Cost||Prices start at approximately $15 for 100 ml of oral solution or $26 for 100 oral tablets||Approximately $13 for 20 tablets|
|Insurance Coverage||Covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare Part D||Covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare Part D|
Is Morphine or OxyContin More Addictive?
Both morphine and OxyContin can be habit-forming.[4,5] Especially when taken for extended periods of time, both types of opioids can be addictive.
However, OxyContin is approximately 1.5 to two times as potent as morphine, so its risk of addiction is somewhat higher. Among people who abuse narcotic drugs, oxycodone (OxyContin) is more commonly abused than morphine.
Which Medication Works Better?
Regarding the effectiveness of morphine compared to oxycodone for the treatment of moderate to severe cancer pain, a recent study found both medications were equally effective. After analyzing seven randomized clinical trials, the study found there was no statistical difference between the effectiveness of each medication in alleviating pain and no significant difference in how well each medication was tolerated.
Prescription opioids like morphine and OxyContin are associated with a range of possible side effects. Even when taken exactly as prescribed by a physician, these medications can have harmful effects and pose a risk of addiction.
Common side effects of morphine and OxyContin include the following:
- Short-term pain relief
- Nausea and constipation
- Respiratory depression
- Slowed heart rate
Since morphine and OxyContin slow breathing and heart rate, it is important to be aware of the risk of coma and overdose. These medications can suppress breathing and heart rate to the point of death. This risk is particularly high when high doses are taken or opioids are combined with alcohol.[1,2]
Pregnant women should also take extra care to avoid prescription opioids, as they increase the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, and neonatal abstinence syndrome upon birth. Additionally, anyone injecting morphine or OxyContin is at an increased risk of contracting infectious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis, if they share needles.
Is One Better or More Dangerous Than the Other?
Morphine and OxyContin serve valuable medical purposes for pain relief in patients who cannot find pain relief elsewhere. The right medication choice for you will depend on a range of factors, and your doctor is in the best position to assess which will work best for you given the circumstances.
It is important to manage the use of both medications carefully and only take them as needed. While OxyContin might be considered more dangerous due to its higher potency, both morphine and OxyContin are known to be habit-forming and can lead to lifelong struggles with substance abuse. Neither substance is intended for long-term use.
- Morphine: Drug Fact Sheet. Drug Enforcement Administration. Published April 2020. Accessed September 4, 2023.
- Oxycodone: Drug Fact Sheet. Drug Enforcement Administration. Published April 2020. Accessed September 4, 2023.
- Prescription Opioid DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published June 2021. Accessed August 31, 2023.
- Morphine. MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Published May 15, 2023. Accessed September 1, 2023.
- Oxycodone. MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Published May 15, 2023. Accessed September 4, 2023.
- Morphine. Drugs.com. Accessed September 4, 2023.
- Morphine Prices, Coupons, and Patient Assistance Programs. Drugs.com. Accessed September 4, 2023.
- Pain Management. Medicare.gov. Accessed September 4, 2023.
- Oxycodone. Drugs.com. Accessed September 4, 2023.
- Oxycodone Prices, Coupons and Patient Assistance Programs. Drugs.com. Accessed September 4, 2023.
- Olesen A., Staahl C., Arendt-Nielsen L,. Drewes A. Different effects of morphine and oxycodone in experimentally evoked hyperalgesia: a human translational study. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2010; 70(2): 189-200. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2010.03700.x
- Guo, KK., Deng CQ., Lu, GJ, et al. Comparison of analgesic effect of oxycodone and morphine on patients with moderate and advanced cancer pain: a meta-analysis. BMC Anesthesiology. 2018; 18.
- Commonly Used Drug Charts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published August 20, 2020. Accessed September 4, 2023.