Morphine Sulfate (Page 7 of 9)


Clinical Presentation

Acute overdose with Morphine Sulfate Tablets can be manifested by respiratory depression, somnolence progressing to stupor or coma, skeletal muscle flaccidity, cold and clammy skin, constricted pupils, and, in some cases, pulmonary edema, bradycardia, hypotension, partial or complete airway obstruction, atypical snoring, and death. Marked mydriasis rather than miosis may be seen with hypoxia in overdose situations [see Clinical Pharmacology (12.2)].

Treatment of Overdose

In case of overdose, priorities are the reestablishment of a patent and protected airway and institution of assisted or controlled ventilation, if needed. Employ other supportive measures (including oxygen and vasopressors) in the management of circulatory shock and pulmonary edema as indicated. Cardiac arrest or arrhythmias will require advanced life-support techniques.

Opioid antagonists, such as naloxone, are specific antidotes to respiratory depression resulting from opioid overdose. For clinically significant respiratory or circulatory depression secondary to opioid overdose, administer an opioid antagonist.

Because the duration of opioid reversal is expected to be less than the duration of action of morphine in Morphine Sulfate Tablets, carefully monitor the patient until spontaneous respiration is reliably reestablished. If the response to an opioid antagonist is suboptimal or only brief in nature, administer additional antagonist as directed by the product’s prescribing information.

In an individual physically dependent on opioids, administration of the recommended usual dosage of the antagonist will precipitate an acute withdrawal syndrome. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms experienced will depend on the degree of physical dependence and the dose of the antagonist administered. If a decision is made to treat serious respiratory depression in the physically dependent patient, administration of the antagonist should be initiated with care and by titration with smaller than usual doses of the antagonist.


Morphine Sulfate Tablets are an opioid agonist, available for oral administration:

  • 15 mg tablet: Each tablet contains 15 mg of morphine sulfate, USP (equivalent to 11.25 mg morphine).
  • 30 mg tablet: Each tablet contains 30 mg of morphine sulfate, USP (equivalent to 22.5 mg morphine).

Chemically, morphine sulfate is 7,8-didehydro-4,5α-epoxy-17-methylmorphinan-3,6α-diol sulfate (2:1) (salt) pentahydrate. Morphine sulfate, USP is a white to off-white crystalline powder or a fine white to light yellow powder. It is soluble in water and slightly soluble in alcohol, but is practically insoluble in chloroform or ether. The octanol:water partition coefficient of morphine is 1.42 at physiologic pH and the pka is 7.9 for the tertiary nitrogen (the majority is ionized at pH 7.4). Its molecular formula is (C17 H19 NO3 )2 ∙ H2 SO4 ∙ 5H2 O, and it has the following chemical structure:

Chemical Structure
(click image for full-size original)

Each tablet contains 15 or 30 mg of morphine sulfate, USP and the following inactive ingredients: colloidal silicon dioxide, corn starch, microcrystalline cellulose, pregelatinized starch, stearic acid and silicified microcrystalline cellulose.


12.1 Mechanism of Action

Morphine is a full opioid agonist and is relatively selective for the mu-opioid receptor, although it can bind to other opioid receptors at higher doses. The principal therapeutic action of morphine is analgesia. Like all full opioid agonists, there is no ceiling effect for analgesia with morphine. Clinically, dosage is titrated to provide adequate analgesia and may be limited by adverse reactions, including respiratory and CNS depression.

The precise mechanism of the analgesic action is unknown. However, specific CNS opioid receptors for endogenous compounds with opioid-like activity have been identified throughout the brain and spinal cord and are thought to play a role in the analgesic effects of this drug.

12.2 Pharmacodynamics

Effects on the Central Nervous System

Morphine produces respiratory depression by direct action on brain stem respiratory centers. The respiratory depression involves a reduction in the responsiveness of the brain stem respiratory centers to both increases in carbon dioxide tension and electrical stimulation.

Morphine causes miosis, even in total darkness. Pinpoint pupils are a sign of opioid overdose but are not pathognomonic (e.g., pontine lesions of hemorrhagic or ischemic origins may produce similar findings). Marked mydriasis rather than miosis may be seen due to hypoxia in overdose situations.

Effects on the Gastrointestinal Tract and Other Smooth Muscle

Morphine causes a reduction in motility associated with an increase in smooth muscle tone in the antrum of the stomach and duodenum. Digestion of food in the small intestine is delayed and propulsive contractions are decreased. Propulsive peristaltic waves in the colon are decreased, while tone may be increased to the point of spasm, resulting in constipation. Other opioid-induced effects may include a reduction in biliary and pancreatic secretions, spasm of sphincter of Oddi, and transient elevations in serum amylase.

Effects on the Cardiovascular System

Morphine produces peripheral vasodilation which may result in orthostatic hypotension or syncope. Manifestations of histamine release and/or peripheral vasodilation may include pruritus, flushing, red eyes, sweating, and/or orthostatic hypotension.

Effects on the Endocrine System

Opioids inhibit the secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), cortisol, and luteinizing hormone (LH) in humans [see Adverse Reactions (6)]. They also stimulate prolactin, growth hormone (GH) secretion, and pancreatic secretion of insulin and glucagon.

Chronic use of opioids may influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, leading to androgen deficiency that may manifest as low libido, impotence, erectile dysfunction, amenorrhea, or infertility. The causal role of opioids in the clinical syndrome of hypogonadism is unknown because the various medical, physical, lifestyle, and psychological stressors that may influence gonadal hormone levels have not been adequately controlled for in studies conducted to date [see Adverse Reactions (6)].

Effects on the Immune System

Opioids have been shown to have a variety of effects on components of the immune system in in vitro and animal models. The clinical significance of these findings is unknown. Overall, the effects of opioids appear to be modestly immunosuppressive.

Concentration–Efficacy Relationships

The minimum effective analgesic concentration will vary widely among patients, especially among patients who have been previously treated with potent agonist opioids. The minimum effective analgesic concentration of morphine for any individual patient may increase over time due to an increase in pain, the development of a new pain syndrome and/or the development of analgesic tolerance [see Dosage and Administration (2.1, 2.3)].

Concentration–Adverse Reaction Relationships

There is a relationship between increasing morphine plasma concentration and increasing frequency of dose-related opioid adverse reactions such as nausea, vomiting, CNS effects, and respiratory depression. In opioid-tolerant patients, the situation may be altered by the development of tolerance to opioid-related adverse reactions [see Dosage and Administration (2.1, 2.3, 2.4)].

12.3 Pharmacokinetics


Morphine, when administered as morphine sulfate is about two-thirds absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract with the maximum analgesic effect occurring 60 minutes post-administration. The oral bioavailability of morphine sulfate is less than 40% and shows large inter-individual variability due to extensive pre-systemic metabolism.

Administration of the 30 mg Morphine Sulfate Tablet and 30 mg of Morphine Sulfate Oral Solution every six hours for 5 days resulted in a comparable 24-hour exposure (AUC). The steady-state levels were achieved within 48 hours for both tablets and solution. The mean steady state Cmax values were about 78 and 58 ng/mL for tablets and solution, respectively.

Food Effects: When morphine sulfate 30 mg tablet was administered 30 minutes after ingesting a high fat/high calorie meal, there was no change in the extent of absorption (AUC) of morphine sulfate. There was, however, an increase in the median Tmax from 0.5 to 0.75 hours and an 11% decrease in Cmax . The tablet can be administered without regard to meals.


Once absorbed, morphine sulfate is distributed to skeletal muscle, kidneys, liver, intestinal tract, lungs, spleen and brain. Although the primary site of action is the CNS, only small quantities cross the blood-brain barrier. Morphine sulfate also crosses the placental membranes and has been found in breast milk. The volume of distribution of morphine sulfate is approximately 1 to 6 L/kg, and morphine sulfate is 20% to 35% reversibly bound to plasma proteins.


Metabolism: The major pathway of morphine sulfate detoxification is conjugation, either with D-glucuronic acid to produce glucuronides or with sulfuric acid to produce morphine-3-etheral sulfate. While a small fraction (less than 5%) of morphine sulfate is demethylated, virtually all morphine sulfate is converted by hepatic metabolism to the 3- and 6­ glucuronide metabolites (M3G and M6G; about 50% and 15%, respectively). M6G has been shown to have analgesic activity but crosses the blood-brain barrier poorly, while M3G has no significant analgesic activity.

Excretion: Most of a dose of morphine sulfate is excreted in urine as M3G and M6G, with elimination of morphine sulfate occurring primarily as renal excretion of M3G. Approximately 10% of the dose is excreted unchanged in urine. A small amount of glucuronide conjugates are excreted in bile, with minor enterohepatic recycling. Seven to 10% of administered morphine sulfate is excreted in the feces.

The mean adult plasma clearance is approximately 20 to 30 mL/min/kg. The effective terminal half-life of morphine sulfate after IV administration is reported to be approximately 2 hours. In some studies involving longer periods of plasma sampling, a longer terminal half-life of morphine sulfate of about 15 hours was reported.

Specific Populations

Race/ Ethnicity: There may be some pharmacokinetic differences associated with race. In one published study, Chinese subjects given intravenous morphine sulfate had a higher clearance when compared to Caucasian subjects (1852 +/- 116 mL/min compared to 1495 +/- 80 mL/min).

Sex: While evidence of greater post-operative morphine sulfate consumption in men compared to women is present in the literature, clinically significant differences in analgesic outcomes and pharmacokinetic parameters have not been consistently demonstrated. Some studies have shown an increased sensitivity to the adverse effects of morphine sulfate, including respiratory depression, in women compared to men.

Hepatic Impairment: Morphine pharmacokinetics are altered in patients with cirrhosis. Clearance was found to decrease with a corresponding increase in half-life. The M3G and M6G to morphine AUC ratios also decreased in these subjects, indicating diminished metabolic activity. Adequate studies of the pharmacokinetics of morphine in patients with severe hepatic impairment have not been conducted.

Renal Impairment: Morphine pharmacokinetics are altered in patients with renal failure. The AUC is increased and clearance is decreased and the metabolites, M3G and M6G, may accumulate to much higher plasma levels in patients with renal failure as compared to patients with normal renal function. Adequate studies of the pharmacokinetics of morphine in patients with severe renal impairment have not been conducted.

Pediatric use information is approved for Hikma Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.’s morphine sulfate tablets. However, due to Hikma Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.’s marketing exclusivity rights, this drug product is not labeled with that information.

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