Adverse Effects and Contraindications

The opioids generally have a high level of safety when used in therapeutic dosages. However, there are several notable exceptions. Morphine and other opioids are contraindicated in patients with hypersensitivity reactions to the opioids. In addition, morphine should not be used in patients with acute bronchial asthma and should not be given as the drug of first choice in patients with pulmonary disease, because it has antitussive effects that prevent the patient from clearing any buildup of mucus in the lungs. Opioids with less antitussive effects, such as meperidine, are better for such situations.

When used via the epidural route, the site for injection must be free of infection. In addition, the use of corticosteroids by the patient should be halted for at least 2 weeks prior to the insertion of the catheter to prevent infection, since morphine increases the im-munosuppressive effects of the steroids.

Opioids are contraindicated in head trauma because of the risk of a rise in intracranial pressure from vasodi-lation and increased cerebrospinal fluid volume. In addition, in such patients the onset of miosis following opi-oid administration can mask the pupillary responses used diagnostically for determination of concussion.

The clearance of morphine and its active metabolite, morphine-6-glucuronide depends on adequate renal function. The elderly are particularly susceptible to accumulation of the drugs, hence respiratory depression and sedation. Morphine, like all opioids, passes through the placenta rapidly and has been associated with prolongation of labor in pregnant women and respiratory depression in the newborn.

Morphine and other opioids exhibit intense sedative effects and increased respiratory depression when combined with other sedatives, such as alcohol or barbiturates. Increased sedation and toxicity are observed when morphine is administered in combination with the psychotropic drugs, such as chlorpromazine and monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or the anxiolytics, such as diazepam.

Respiratory depression, miosis, hypotension, and coma are signs of morphine overdose. While the IV administration of naloxone reverses the toxic effects of morphine, naloxone has a short duration of action and must be administered repeatedly at 30- to 45minute intervals until morphine is cleared from the body.

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