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Dilaudid: 7 things you should know

Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on March 1, 2023.

1. How it works

  • Dilaudid is a brand (trade name) for hydromorphone which may be used to relieve pain..
  • Hydromorphone is a derivative of morphine and binds to mu-opioid receptors in the brain and stomach with strong pain-relieving effects. Hydromorphone is a full agonist at the mu receptor (full agonists have a larger effect at higher dosages).
  • Dilaudid belongs to the class of medicines known as narcotic analgesics. It may also be called an opioid analgesic. An analgesic is a drug that is used to relieve pain.

2. Upsides

  • Relieves moderate-to-severe acute and chronic pain not controlled by other non-narcotic pain-relieving medicines.
  • Approximately 5 times more potent than morphine on a weight-for-weight basis; however, conversion charts vary in their estimates of equianalgesic dosages, so caution should always be used when changing from one narcotic to Dilaudid or vice-versa.
  • Dilaudid will help calm a cough, although other, less potentially addictive cough suppressants may be preferred.
  • Dilaudid is available as a generic under the name of hydromorphone.

3. Downsides

If you are between the ages of 18 and 60, take no other medication or have no other medical conditions, side effects you are more likely to experience include:

  • Light-headedness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, dizziness, low blood pressure, flushing, itching, red eyes, and headache.
  • May also cause drowsiness and affect a person's ability to drive or operate machinery. Has a higher potential to cause sedation than morphine.
  • There is a risk of respiratory depression (unusually slow or shallow breathing) when taking Dilaudid. The risk is higher in the elderly, debilitated, or those with pre-existing breathing problems, even at dosages usually recommended.
  • May also cause the pupils of the eye to constrict (pinpoint pupils). Pinpoint pupils are a common sign of overdose but are not a definite sign.
  • Avoid alcohol at all times (alcohol can increase side effects and also blood levels of the drug leading to a fatal overdosage).
  • Dilaudid can be habit-forming (addictive), even at regular doses. It has a high abuse potential, and personal legitimate supplies of Dilaudid may be sought out by drug seekers. Babies born to mothers who are physically dependent on Dilaudid will be born physically dependent on Dilaudid themselves.
  • Tolerance may develop to Dilaudid's effect. This means that increasing dosages are needed to maintain the same level of pain relief with time.
  • Should be used short-term only. When given long-term, may cause withdrawal symptoms if abruptly stopped. Taper dosage off slowly under a doctor's supervision.
  • Lower dosages of Dilaudid are needed in people with moderate liver or kidney disease.
  • May not be suitable for some people including those with pre-existing breathing problems, severe liver or kidney disease, head injuries, seizures, gastrointestinal conditions, at risk for low blood pressure, prostatic hypertrophy, psychiatric conditions, or with drug or alcohol dependency.
  • May interact with several other drugs including those that also cause sedation or respiratory depression or which are metabolized by similar hepatic enzymes. Some preparations of Dilaudid contain sodium metabisulfite which may cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to it.
  • Dilaudid is classed as a schedule II controlled drug, because of its high potential for abuse and risk of respiratory depression.

Note: In general, seniors or children, people with certain medical conditions (such as liver or kidney problems, heart disease, diabetes, seizures) or people who take other medications are more at risk of developing a wider range of side effects. View complete list of side effects

4. Bottom Line

  • Dilaudid is a morphine-like pain-relieving medicine that may be given to relieve severe pain. It carries a high risk of respiratory depression (unusually slow or shallow breathing) and is potentially addictive.

5. Tips

  • Take exactly as directed and never take more than your doctor has directed. Low dosages are used initially to reduce the risk of side effects. If you think you have become addicted to Dilaudid, talk with your doctor.
  • Dilaudid may make you sleepy and impair your reaction time. Do not drive or operate machinery if Dilaudid affects you in this way.
  • Do not drink alcohol while taking Dilaudid. It can increase the risk of side effects such as sedation and respiratory depression and increase blood levels of Dilaudid to potentially fatal levels.
  • Do not crush, chew, or attempt to dissolve slow-release forms of Dilaudid. This may result in a potentially fatal overdose.
  • Do not take any other medications with Dilaudid, unless they have been prescribed by your doctor. This includes medicines bought over the counter and herbal supplements.
  • May cause a rapid lowering of blood pressure when going from a sitting to a standing position. This may make you feel faint and increase your risk of falling. Always stand up slowly.
  • Keep well out of reach of children and pets. Even just one accidental dose can be fatal.
  • If you have been taking Dilaudid for more than a few days, do not stop it abruptly. Talk to your doctor about tapering off the dosage.
  • There have been several medication errors associated with Dilaudid use. Always use a properly calibrated measure when measuring liquid Dilaudid. Talk with your pharmacist or doctor if you have any questions about taking Dilaudid or the dosage of Dilaudid.

6. Response and effectiveness

  • Dilaudid is active once absorbed and reaches peak concentrations within 45 minutes.
  • Liver disease can increase concentrations of Dilaudid up to four-fold. Kidney disease can increase the time it takes for Dilaudid to be eliminated from the body up to three-fold.
  • Dilaudid has a shorter half-life than morphine and a greater risk of sedation.

7. Interactions

Medicines that interact with Dilaudid may either decrease its effect, affect how long it works, increase side effects, or have less of an effect when taken with Dilaudid. An interaction between two medications does not always mean that you must stop taking one of the medications; however, sometimes it does. Speak to your doctor about how drug interactions should be managed.

Common medications that may interact with Dilaudid include:

  • antidepressants, such as tricyclic antidepressants (eg, amitriptyline), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (eg, isocarboxazid, phenelzine, and tranylcypromine), or SSRIs (eg, fluoxetine, sertraline)
  • anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine, phenytoin, phenobarbital, or primidone
  • antipsychotics (such as butyrophenones, phenothiazines, or thioxanthenes) and atypical antipsychotics (eg, olanzapine, quetiapine, ziprasidone)
  • any medication that may cause drowsiness, such as amphetamines, benzodiazepines (eg, diazepam, lorazepam), first-generation antihistamines (such as doxylamine or promethazine), metoclopramide, or opioids (such as codeine, morphine)
  • buprenorphine
  • ipratropium
  • isocarboxazid
  • muscle relaxants, such as cyclobenzaprine
  • pentazocine
  • selegiline.

Avoid drinking alcohol or taking illegal or recreational drugs while taking Dilaudid.

Note that this list is not all-inclusive and includes only common medications that may interact with Dilaudid. You should refer to the prescribing information for Dilaudid for a complete list of interactions.


Further information

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use Dilaudid only for the indication prescribed.

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Copyright 1996-2023 Revision date: March 1, 2023.