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Morphine Overdose: Signs & Symptoms to Look Out For

Elena Hill, MD, MPH profile image
Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH • Updated Aug 14, 2023 • 6 cited sources

Morphine overdose signs include drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, slow or labored breathing, pinpoint pupils, and unresponsiveness.

An estimated 15 million people worldwide misuse opioids like morphine every year.[1] 

While some overdoses are a result of taking illicit morphine, sometimes morphine can cause an overdose even if taken exactly as prescribed by a doctor, which is why all narcotic medications carry risk. The risk of overdose even on routine doses of prescribed morphine is also elevated if taken in combination with other sedatives (like alcohol or benzodiazepines).

Understanding morphine overdose signs and symptoms is critical, as these episodes are life-threatening. With quick medication intervention, you can survive an overdose. Keep reading to learn more about the signs and symptoms of morphine overdose.

Can You Overdose on Morphine?

Yes, you can overdose on morphine.

Morphine is a prescription opioid available in both generic and brand-name versions. Your doctor might use this medication to help manage your pain either short time or, more rarely, for long term use. 

Morphine is a central nervous system depressant in the sense that it decreases your body’s natural drive to breathe. If taken in excess, it can cause such a degree of respiratory suppression that the person spontaneously stops breathing, causing what we call an overdose. 

How Much Morphine Can Make You Overdose?

It entirely depends. Opioid tolerance varies from person to person, and can change with time. If you’ve never taken morphine before, a dose that’s safe for an experienced person could cause an overdose for you. 

Approach all opioids, including morphine, with caution. Many people believe these drugs are safe because they are prescribed by doctors. But even prescription drugs like morphine are the source of about 50% of all misused opioids.[2]Even normal or routine doses of prescribed morphine can cause overdose in some individuals. 

Signs & Symptoms of Morphine Overdose

Common early overdose symptoms include the following:[3]

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pinpoint pupils 
  • Slow, shallow or labored breathing
  • minimal or no responsiveness 

Without treatment, these symptoms can worsen. The person may be impossible to awaken, even if you shake them or call their name. Their lips or fingernails may appear bluish or purplish. They may feel cold to the touch, and they may not be breathing. 

Morphine Overdose Risk Factors

Anyone can overdose on morphine, including people who have used the drug for years. While some factors can increase your risk, no one is truly safe from an overdose of this drug.

People with a higher risk of overdose share the following factors:[4]

  • Tolerance changes: Your body reacts and adjusts to changes in morphine levels. If you take a smaller amount (or none at all) for a few days or weeks and then return to your prior dose, you could overdose.

    This is why overdose is common with opioid misuse relapses. The person’s tolerance lowered during their recovery period, and that same dose that they were previously used to is now too much, leading to unintentional overdose.
  • Alterations in supply: Morphine you buy from street dealers could be contaminated with other substances that increase your overdose risks. It’s common for dealers to mix street opioids with fentanyl or other more potent opioids, unbeknownst to the buyer.
  • Mixing your doses: Adding alcohol, benzodiazepines or other central nervous system depressants to morphine increases overdose risks. Using stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine can increase risks too.
  • Underlying health problems: Conditions like hepatitis C, lung disease, heart disease or HIV increase your overdose risks. If you have any underlying health issue, you might be at increased risk of overdose.
  • Drug history: If you’ve overdosed once, your risk of a repeat overdose is higher. 

What Happens When You Overdose on Morphine?

In 2021, more than 98,000 people died due to drug overdoses — an all-time high.[5] The opioid category that includes morphine was responsible for more than 12,000 of these deaths.[6]

The medication naloxone can quickly reverse an overdose, and it’s available over the counter for any bystander to administer. One quick puff of fluid into the nose delivers naloxone to brain cells, which kicks morphine off its receptors. If you have naloxone, don’t hesitate to administer it.

After naloxone administration, people awaken very quickly, but they don’t feel well. With all morphine rendered inactive in minutes, people develop severe and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, including the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle aches 

Some people take so much morphine that they slip back into an overdose when one naloxone dose wears off. They may need monitoring in a hospital to ensure they get the long-term help they need. If you have a second naloxone dose on hand, administer it while you wait for emergency medical professionals to arrive.

What to Do if You or Someone You Know Is Overdosing

Never use morphine alone. Ask someone to stay with you or check in with you regularly, and intervene if you overdose. You can’t generally medicate yourself, but someone else can offer lifesaving assistance.

If you think someone is overdosing, take these steps:

  • Confirm their overdose. Shake them, call their names and tell them you’re going to call 911. If they don’t respond:
  • Administer naloxone. If you have naloxone with you, spray the drug in the person’s nose. If they don’t awaken within a few minutes, deliver another dose. 
  • Call for help. Call 911, and tell the operator you’re with someone experiencing an overdose. Follow the operator’s instructions.
  • Stay with the person. Don’t leave until help arrives, even if the person awakens. Follow any instructions from the operator.

Your quick thinking during an overdose could save someone’s life. If you or someone you love uses morphine, keep naloxone on hand for emergencies like this.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where ... Read More

  1. Opioid Addiction. U.S. National Library of Medicine. November 2017. Accessed April 2023.
  2. The Opioid Epidemic. Global Emergency of Mental Disorders. 2021. Accessed April 2023.
  3. Morphine Overdose. U.S. National Library of Medicine. January 2021. Accessed April 2023.
  4. Opioid Overdose Risk Factors. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Accessed April 2023.
  5. Drug Overdoses. National Safety Council. Accessed April 2023.
  6. Drug Overdoses: Data Details. National Safety Council. Accessed April 2023.

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