Difference Between Opiates and Opioids

Opiate vs. Opioid – Do You Know the Difference?

When thinking about opioids vs opiates many people mistakenly believe they are the same thing. Oftentimes the terms opiate and opioid are even used interchangeably. However, they are not completely the same. There is one major distinction when thinking about opioid vs opiate. The difference between opiates and opioids are that the term opioids covers all psychoactive chemicals that can either occur naturally or can be man-made in a laboratory. On the other hand, opiates are naturally occurring substances that are derived from the poppy plant.

What is an Opiate?

An opiate is a naturally occurring substance that is found within the seeds of a poppy plant. Opiates are a group of pain-relieving drugs. Opiates are well known for their effects on the central nervous system. They can cause a person to experience dizziness, relief, mental clouding, mood changes, and loss of fine motor skills. The more opiates a person consumes the more influence the drug has on the neurotransmitters in the brain resulting in mood, behavior, and other bodily activity disturbances.

Naturally occurring opiates are alkaloids. Alkaloids are chemical compounds that contain nitrogen and occur naturally in plants such as the opium poppy. Some examples of natural opiates are morphine, codeine, and thebaine.

What is an Opioid?

An opioid is used to describe the entire class of opium containing drugs that include natural, semi-synthetic, and fully synthetically made. Opioids, include opiates and are therefore also a type of medicine used to relieve pain. Just like opiates, opioids work by lowering the pain signals your body sends to your brain and can also change the way it responds to pain.

Semi-synthetic (manmade) opioids are created in a lab from natural opiates. A few examples of manmade opioids are hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Heroin is also an example of this because it is made from morphine. Fully synthetic opioids are 100 percent manmade and include fentanyl, pethidine, levorphanol, methadone, tramadol, and dextropropoxyphene. Fentanyl is currently a major issue in the United States. It is way more potent than heroin and is responsible for a lot of overdose deaths in the United States.

Dependence on opioids like heroin, fentanyl, or prescription painkillers is one of the most devastating addictions found in the treatment community today. The United States is currently undergoing an epidemic caused by opioid addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2017 to 2018 the number of synthetic opioid-involved deaths has risen by 10 percent. It is important to know the difference between opioids and opiates because if you didn’t you might think that opiates like morphine or codeine could be attributed to the death rates but this is not the case. Only, synthetic or man-made opioid drugs like fentanyl have been attributed to this surge in death rated from opioids.

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Are Opiates and Opioids the Same?

By now you should be starting to see that opioids and opiates are not exactly the same. The difference between opioids and opiates is that opioids are considered an overarching category that often includes opiates. However, opiates are not the same as opioids because when a person refers to opiates they are speaking about naturally occurring substances like morphine. While the word opioid encompasses opiates, not all opioids are found in nature and many of them are man-made in a laboratory.

No matter naturally or man-made, the chemical works the same. Opioids bind to the receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system to block pain receptors and enhance pleasurable feelings. Due to their pleasure enhancing effects they are highly addictive and have resulted in an opioid crisis in the United States that has led to many people dying from an overdose. The American Society of Addiction Medicine stated that drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is the driving force behind this epidemic with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015. More recently, in 2018, 128 people in the United States die every day after overdosing.

Based on these statistics, opioids are highly addictive, dangerous, and likely to be misused. Prescription painkillers, heroin, and most recently, fentanyl have created a national crisis that affects public health. Therefore, it is important to know the signs that you or a loved one might have an addiction to opioids. The biggest indicator that you are addicted to opioids is that you are unable to stop using the drug. Other opioid addiction symptoms include poor concentration, drowsiness, constipation, poor decision making, slurred speech, depression, anxiety, and mood swings.

If you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from an opiate or opioid addiction, finding a high-quality addiction rehab can help. Rehab clinics are well equipped with medical and mental health professionals to help you overcome this disease. You will be provided the support you need to overcome your addiction and make a full recovery.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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