Difference Between Opiate and Opioid

Learn more about opiate vs. opioid usage, types, potential risk factors, and withdrawal symptoms here.

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Understanding the Difference Between Opiates and Opioids

The terms opioid and opiate tend to be used interchangeably; however, they do not entirely refer to the same substance. Opiates are substances that occur naturally and are produced from the organic chemicals found within the opium poppy plant.

On the other hand, opioid drugs are those that are synthetically created in a laboratory. Opioids can be either completely man-made (synthetic) or part natural, part man-made (semi-synthetic). Aside from the origin of the substance, there is little difference between opioids and opiates. Currently, opioid is the preferred blanket term in order to avoid confusion.

Does One Carry More Risks Than the Other?

Both opioids and opiates are considered narcotics and carry very similar risks. The term “narcotic” sometimes acts as a blanket term for all illegal substances, but it technically refers to only opioid drugs. As both opioids and opiate drugs are considered narcotics, they all carry the potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. However, some types of opioids may carry a higher risk due to potency. 1

What are Opiates?

Opiates are a category of narcotic that originates from the poppy plant. These are considered natural opioids since they are derived from organic chemical compounds within the plant. Some examples of naturally-occurring opioids are:
  • Morphine: Morphine is an opiate that is prescribed as a pain reliever. It is most often used to treat moderate to severe pain that other medications are unable to manage or chronic pain lasting more than a few days. 2
  • Codeine: Codeine is an example of a prescription opiate that is used to treat mild to moderate pain. It typically comes in tablet form. It is also sometimes mixed with over-the-counter medication, such as cough syrup, to treat cough and cold symptoms.
  • Opium: Opium is a type of opioid that is made from the milky substance within the pod of the poppy plant. Opium can either be eaten, made into powder, or taken as a pill.

What are Opioids?

In the discussion of opiate vs. opioid, the term opioid refers to those substances that are manufactured in a laboratory and create the same effects as naturally-occurring opiates. There are two types of opioids: semi-synthetic and synthetic opioids.

Semi-Synthetic Opioids

Semi-synthetic opioids are substances that are produced in a lab using the natural chemicals in opiates. Therefore, they are partially man-made and partially natural. These are often common opioids used by medical providers to treat pain.

Examples of semi-synthetic opioids are:

  • Oxycodone: Oxycodone is a medication frequently used to treat moderate to severe pain. In its pure form, its brand name is OxyContin. When mixed with other pain-relieving drugs, it may be referred to as Percocet, Roxicodone, or Percodan. 
  • Heroin: Heroin is an opioid that is illegal. Heroin is made from morphine and can be injected, snorted, or smoked.
  • Hydrocodone: Hydrocodone is similar to oxycodone and is used to treat moderate to severe pain. It is often sold under the brand name Vicodin.
  • Hydromorphone: Hydromorphone is usually marketed under its brand name Dilaudid and is used to treat severe pain that is not responsive to less potent treatment. 4
  • Oxymorphone: Oxymorphone is also used to treat severe pain and is twelve to fourteen times more potent than oxycodone. It is sold under the brand name Oxana. 5

Synthetic Opioids

The difference between natural and synthetic drugs is that synthetic opioids are fully manufactured in a lab and are man-made. They do not include any of the natural chemicals in opiates. Some examples of opioids that are synthetic include: 

  • Methadone: Like other common opioids, methadone is used to treat pain. However, it can also be used in opioid addiction to treat opioid use disorders by managing withdrawal and cravings. Methadone comes in a powder, tablet, or liquid form. 6
  • Fentanyl: Fentanyl is a synthetic narcotic that is fifty to one hundred times more potent than morphine. It may be prescribed in a hospital setting to treat severe pain. However, illegally-made fentanyl has increased and has led to a rise in overdoses. 7
  • Tramadol: Another legal synthetic opioid is Tramadol. This substance is usually prescribed under the brand name Ultram and used to treat moderate to severe pain similar to natural and semi-synthetic opioids.

Opioid vs Opiate

Both opioids and opiates are highly addictive. The degree of addictiveness may vary depending on factors such as the type of drug, the dosage, and the length of time used. Even legal opiates have a high potential for addiction. All prescribed medication should be taken responsibly and with medical support. Opiate addiction is a serious issue and any concerns should be discussed with a medical provider.

What is Opioid Withdrawal?

Opioids can have a variety of effects on the body, and the most common side effects include nausea, constipation, sedation, and dizziness. More severe effects of opioids can include respiratory depression, heart failure, tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction.
For someone who experiences physical dependence or addiction, the complications of withdrawal can cause a significant amount of discomfort and distress. Some examples of symptoms of opioid withdrawal include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, sweats, chills, increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and abnormally high temperature.

What is Opiate Withdrawal?

Opiates and opioids have similar effects on the body. However, opiates tend to be less potent than semi-synthetic and synthetic opioids, meaning that these drugs may produce less extreme effects on the body and less intense withdrawal symptoms. This does not mean that opiates are less likely to be addictive and can still cause just as much risk as opioids. The effect and risk may depend on the type of opiate and the dosage being used.

Indications of Opiate Addiction

Signs of opiate addiction may include: 8
  • Taking more medication than prescribed
  • Taking medication when not in pain
  • Changes in mood, such as excessive mood swings
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Borrowing or stealing medication from someone else or “losing” medication to get a new prescription
  • Seeking prescriptions from multiple doctors
  • Poor decision making

List of Opioid Combination Products

Many semi-synthetic opioids are used in combination with other pain-relieving products. These medications can result in opiate addiction to prescription medication. Some examples of opioid combination products include:
  • Acetaminophen-caffeine-dihydrocodeine (brand names: Trezix or Zerlor)
  • Acetaminophen-codeine
  • Aspirin-caffeine-dihydrocodeine (brand name SYNALGOS-DC)
  • Hydrocodone-acetaminophen (brand names: Vicodin or Hycet)
  • Oxycodone-acetaminophen (brand names: Percocet or Roxicet)
  • Oxycodone-aspirin (Brand name: Percodan)
  • Oxycodone-ibuprofen (Brand name: Combunox).
  • Oxycodone-naltrexone (Brand name: Troxyca ER)
  • Pentazocine-naloxone (Brand name: Talwin Nx)
  • Tramadol-acetaminophen (Brand name: Ultracet)

Get Treatment For Opioid & Opiate

Addiction At Soledad House

Get opioid or opiate addiction help at Soledad House. Soledad House provides holistic and evidence-based treatment for women who are struggling with addiction in order to help them achieve long-term sobriety. Our team can help with opiate withdrawal and provide opiate addiction treatment.

The program at Soledad House includes residential treatment, partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient programs, aftercare support, and sober living programs, all aimed at the holistic recovery of each individual woman. For more information about our opioid addiction treatment program, contact us at 866.314.3181 or visit our website at https://soledadhouse.com/contact/.