Efficacy and tolerability of oral morphine versus oxycodone/acetaminophen for analgesia in the emergency department





morphine, oxycodone, opioid


Objective: Oxycodone/acetaminophen is one of the most commonly prescribed medications for pain management in the emergency department (ED) despite its high abuse liability. Our objective was to determine whether oral immediate-release morphine is as effective and well tolerated as oral oxycodone/acetaminophen for pain relief in stable ED patients.

Design: This is a prospective comparative study in which stable adult patients with acute painful conditions who had either oral morphine (15 or 30 mg) or oxycodone/ acetaminophen (5/325 mg or 10/650 mg) ordered for them at the discretion of a triage physician were recruited.

Setting: This study took place in an urban, academic ED from 2016 to 2019.

Participants: Seventy-three percent of the subjects were between the ages of 18 and 59, 57 percent were female, and 85 percent were African American. Most presented with abdominal, extremity, or back pain. Patient characteristics were similar between treatment groups.

Interventions: Of the 364 enrolled patients, 182 were given oral morphine and 182 were given oxycodone/acetaminophen at the discretion of the triage provider. They were asked to rate their pain score prior to receiving analgesia and at 60 and 90 minutes after administration.

Main outcome measures: We examined pain scores, adverse effects, overall satisfaction, willingness to accept the same treatment again, and the need for additional analgesia.

Results: There was no difference in satisfaction reported by patients who received morphine versus oxycodone/acetaminophen: 15.9 percent vs 16.5 percent were very satisfied, 31.9 percent vs 26.4 percent were somewhat satisfied, and 23.6 percent vs 22.5 percent were not satisfied, p = 0.56. Secondary outcomes also showed no significant difference: net change in pain score –2 vs –2 at 60 and 90 minutes, p = 0.91 and p = 0.72, respectively; adverse effects 20.9 percent vs 19.2 percent, p = 0.69; need for further analgesia 9.3 percent vs 7.1 percent, p = 0.44; willingness to accept analgesic again 73.1 percent vs 78.6 percent, p = 0.22.

Conclusions: Oral morphine is a feasible alternative to oxycodone/acetaminophen for analgesia in the ED.

Author Biographies

Hayley Harvey, MD

Department of Emergency Medicine, Georgetown University Hospital/Medstar Washington Hospital Center, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC

Maria Cacciapuoti, MD

Medical Student, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC

Leena Ramadan, MD

Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC; Department of Emergency Medicine, NYU Medical Center/Bellevue Hospital Center, New York, New York

Katherine Brodie, MD

Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC; Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Colin Gibson, MD

Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC

Eshetu Tefera, MS

Department of Biostatistics and Biomedical Informatics, MedStar Health Research Institute, Washington, DC

Gregory G. Yu, MD, PharmD, MBA, MPH

Department of Emergency Medicine, Georgetown University Hospital/Medstar Washington Hospital Center, Washington, DC

Sergey M. Motov, MD

Department of Emergency Medicine, Maimonides Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York

Lewis S. Nelson, MD

Department of Emergency Medicine, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Newark, New Jersey

Maryann Mazer-Amirshahi, PharmD, MD, MPH, PhD

Department of Emergency Medicine, MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Washington, DC


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How to Cite

Harvey, MD, H., M. Cacciapuoti, MD, L. Ramadan, MD, K. Brodie, MD, C. Gibson, MD, E. Tefera, MS, G. G. Yu, MD, PharmD, MBA, MPH, S. M. Motov, MD, L. S. Nelson, MD, and M. Mazer-Amirshahi, PharmD, MD, MPH, PhD. “Efficacy and Tolerability of Oral Morphine Versus oxycodone/Acetaminophen for Analgesia in the Emergency Department”. Journal of Opioid Management, vol. 19, no. 3, Apr. 2023, pp. 273-80, doi:10.5055/jom.2023.0782.




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