What Is the Difference between Oxycodone and Morphine?

A syringe and container of morphine.
Morphine is derived from the opium poppy, while oxycodone is synthesized from an alkaloid found in opium.
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  • Written By: Helga George
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 20 July 2014
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Oxycodone and morphine are two strong pain relievers that share structural similarities and are both alkaloids, which are nitrogen containing organic molecules. They differ in that morphine is a component of opium and is part of a group of chemicals known as opiates. All compounds that have a similar structure to the opiates, including those synthesized chemically like oxycodone, are known as opioids. These compounds differ in their method of metabolism, degree of side effects, and frequency of usage as a street drug.

Morphine is obtained from the latex of opium poppy seed pods. The crude opium contains a mixture of compounds. Morphine has long been used as a pain reliever and has played a curious role in medicine. In the 1800s, it was prescribed by doctors as a cure for alcoholism as it was considered a more benign addiction. It was also known as the “army disease” after the American Civil War when soldiers returned home with war injuries and subsequent morphine addiction.

The opiod oxycodone is synthesized from thebaine, another alkaloid found in opium. With morphine being so addictive, there was a consensus to not make morphine substitutes available in pill form. Another difference between oxycodone and morphine is that the latter drug is considered the “gold standard” for the treatment of patients with severe chronic illnesses. Very high doses have been found to prolong the life of seriously ill cancer patients. Morphine is also used in hospital settings to relieve pain after surgery.

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Oxycodone and morphine differ in their mode of metabolism. Unlike morphine, oxycodone is metabolized by enzymes in the liver that detoxify a number of prescription drugs. This has several implications for the metabolism of this compound. Other drugs may interfere with the metabolism of oxycodone. There are also genetic differences in how efficiently these enzymes detoxify their targets, leading to metabolism that may either be too quick or too slow.

One benefit of oxycodone is that it has fewer side effects than morphine. The latter drug brings on a very strong feeling of pleasure and euphoria. There is pleasure after taking oxycodone, but fewer euphoric side effects than from taking morphine. This should cause oxycodone to be less addictive.

Street availability is another difference between oxycodone and morphine. Since morphine is so rarely prescribed for home use, it is not commonly sold on the street. There are large numbers of prescriptions filled for oxycodone in the United States. The drug is available in a slow-release form called OxyContin® that is highly popular with recreational drug users. There is a problem with teenagers stealing these pills from family medicine cabinets and then switching to heroin after they have gone to college.

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Discuss this Article

anon946236
Post 5

I have been on both morphine and Oxycontin and you are right: morphine makes me like a zombie also but I was also on a high mg of morphine. It seemed to work then my doctor switched me to Oxycontin and oxycodone (roxys) and I come to the point where the Roxy at a lower dose works better for me.

I have been in constant pain for the last six months and am having surgery Monday so to answer your question ddjohn, oxycodone is better but morphine does work too. Good luck.

anon925397
Post 4

I have used them both and I find that the OxyContin is far better than morphine. I was a zombie on the morphine but since I have been on the OxyContin I have been fine, you have to watch for constipation but that's the same with both.

stoneMason
Post 3

They have their differences but oxycodone and morphine are still fairly similar. They're both heavily abused and many doctors now avoid prescribing them unless it's absolutely necessary. My aunt has degenerative arthritis which is very painful and she can't get her doctor to give her oxycodone or morphine.

donasmrs
Post 2

@ddljohn-- As far as I know, oxycodone effects are stronger than morphine, not the other way around. But you might want to check with your doctor.

I used oxycodone for a short while after my surgery and it was great. I had the slow-release one and one tablet before nighttime gave me pain-relief throughout the night. I haven't used morphine, so I can't compare the two. But my doctor said that oxycodone is one of the best chronic pain relievers.

I think you should try oxycodone firs if your doctor approves. I think it will work for you. Also keep in mind that everyone's body responds to medications differently. So you might need a different drug combination or dose than other people to experience the same kind of pain relief.

ddljohn
Post 1

Has anyone used oxycodone and morphine before? Which is the better drug for pain management?

I suffer from chronic pain. Out of ten, I would say that my pain is between six and seven. I've tried several different opiates and none of them have worked well. Every time I see my doctor, he switches me to another medication and I'm just so disappointed. I spoke to him over the phone today and told him that the drug I'm on is also not enough for my pain. He told me that he will prescribe me something like oxycodone if I still feel the same way after a few days.

Will oxycodone be effective? Or do I need something stronger like morphine?

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