You’ve likely heard the terms “opioids” and “opiates” at some point in your life, especially if you’re living with a substance use disorder. It’s easy to confuse the two or assume that they’re the same. They might sound similar, but there are key differences between them.
Opioids and opiates are both narcotics, they’re used to treat pain, and they come with a risk of dependency. The largest difference between the two is that opioids are synthetic (made in a lab), and opiates are mainly derived from plants. At ReVIDA Recovery®, we care about community education when it comes to these powerful narcotics. Let’s dig a little deeper into the characteristics of opioids and opiates.
Table of Contents
What Is an Opioid?
Opioids are made of chemical compounds in a lab. Another word for this is “synthesized” – hence, the term “synthetic.” A lot of the popular opioids you hear about, like OxyContin, are partially synthetic. They’re not usually derived from organic materials. They’re designed and manufactured in laboratories.
Fun fact: some of the most common cold medications are made using dextromethorphan, which is considered an opioid molecule. Dextromethorphan can be found in over-the-counter medications like NyQuil, Robitussin, TheraFlu, and even Vicks. Loperamide, which is also considered an opioid compound, can be found in over-the-counter gas relief meds like Immodium.
Other opioids are available via prescription from your physician, and these are the ones that are commonly misused. People misuse these opioids for a number of reasons. They create feelings of well-being and relaxation, which many use for self-medication if they’re living with anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders.
Opioids also work (and are often prescribed) as powerful pain relievers when ibuprofen or aspirin won’t do the trick. People living with chronic pain may feel the need to continue taking opioids, even when their prescription runs out. This can cause them to obtain it illicitly. Withdrawal symptoms are common with opioids, which can cause people to become physically dependent on them. This is another contributing factor to opioid misuse.
Examples of Opioids
Some common examples of opioids include:
- Meperidine (Demerol)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin)
What Are Opiates?
Similar to opioids, opiates are narcotics that are often prescribed as pain relievers. They have the potential for misuse for the same reasons – they cause withdrawal symptoms, they promote feelings of euphoria, and they can be obtained illicitly. The main difference between opiates and opioids is how they’re made. Opiates are made of chemical compounds that are extracted from poppy sap and fibers.
Examples of Opiates
Some common opiates that are used in the United States include:
Is One More Dangerous Than the Other
Both opioids and opiates can be considered “dangerous” when they’re misused. Overdose (even overdose resulting in death) is possible with both classes of medication. That being said, some opioids are more powerful than opiates, mainly Fentanyl. Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin, so the potential for overdose is quite high. Especially when you consider how often fentanyl is mixed into other opioids/opiates to intensify their effects.
Both opioids and opiates are dangerous when purchased illicitly (on the streets or online) for this reason. If someone buys heroin from a dealer, they may be buying heroin laced or cut with fentanyl. They may take their usual dose of heroin only to overdose moments later because they didn’t know what was in it. It’s impossible for buyers to know what dealers are putting into these substances.
Overdose isn’t the only danger when it comes to opioids and opiates. Forming an addiction to these medications can be dangerous as well. The neural pathways in the brain shift with regular use of opioids and opiates, resulting in poor decision-making.
Both opioids and opiates also have an effect on our organs, especially with long-term use. They’ve been known to cause seizures, gastrointestinal distress (including blockages), and heart palpitations.
Taking these medications under the influence of alcohol can also become dangerous.
As long as opioids or opiates are taken properly under the care of a doctor, they can be effective for short-term pain relief.
Treatment for Opioids or Opiates
If you feel like you’re struggling with narcotic use, ReVIDA Recovery® can help you reclaim your life. We understand how difficult it can be when you feel like you’re unable to stop using opioids/opiates, but you have options. Take a look at our treatment options for opioid use disorder, or call us today at 423-631-0432 to get started on your journey to recovery!
FAQs About Opioids vs. Opiates
What are some common Opioids?
Common opioids include fentanyl, oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, carfentanil, and methadone.
Is oxycodone an opioid or opiates?
Oxycodone (OxyContin) is considered an opioid because it is made in a lab using synthetic compounds.