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What Are the Strongest Narcotic Pain Medications?

By Brett Merle ; Updated July 27, 2017

Narcotic pain medications are derived from opiates, compounds that come from the naturally occurring Opium poppy plant. There are dozens of synthetic and natural versions of these opiate-based (narcotic) pain relievers, all carrying various levels of strength. Whereas fentanyl is considered the strongest, morphine seems to be the basis by which all drugs of this class are compared.

How Narcotics Work Against Pain

Narcotic pain relievers are derived from opiates and work when the body processes opiate-based compounds into chemicals called endorphins. In the brain, endorphins elicit a feeling of euphoria, thus blocking out sensations of pain.


Generally speaking, the strongest pain medication available is fentanyl. It is a synthetic version of opiate and is only administered by injection. It is usually found only in hospitals where it helps induce sleep in patients suffering from extreme levels of pain.


Buprenorphine is slightly less potent than fentanyl, but it can also be administered orally.


Levorphanol is another synthetically-based opioid. It is four times stronger than morphine when taken via injection and over 10 times as potent when taken orally. Additionally, it has a 12-hour half life.


The drug Hydromorphone is closely related to morphine, except it is slightly more potent, with a slightly longer half life.


Morphine is one of the oldest and most common narcotic pain medications. It can be administered orally and by injection. It is a naturally occurring substance extracted directly from the opium poppy plant.

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