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Opioids vs. Opiates

The opioid epidemic has been ravaging the United States for a decade now, but do you know the difference between opioids vs opiates?

 

Confusion arises because the two words are often used interchangeably, even though this is not strictly accurate. We’ll be clearing up this gray area today.

 

Since the US Department of Health and Human Services declared a National Health Emergency back in 2017 due to the opioid epidemic, the word has seared itself into the national consciousness, even among those who have never used drugs.

 

Opiate drugs of all descriptions, whether prescription pills, OTC medication, or illicit narcotics are being abused by up to 36 million people worldwide. Here in the US, over 2 million people are struggling with opioid use disorder. Throw in almost 500,000 heroin addicts, and it’s clear the opioid epidemic is far from beaten.

 

What are Opioids?

Opioids are narcotic analgesics that are at least partly synthetic.

 

These drugs are not found naturally, and the active ingredients are created chemically.

 

Opioids act in just the same way as opiates when they enter the body because the molecules of opioids vs opiates are so similar. This class of drug interacts with the opioid receptors in the body

 

Common opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl.

 

In the short-term, opioids can reduce pain and help lessen anxiety. They make the body and mind numb. While opioids blunt your perception of pain, they also bring about side effects like nausea and drowsiness. When abused, opioids can trigger a sense of euphoria. Habitual opioid users crave this high, but it’s fleeting, and this is what causes people to use more and more opioids.

 

Abuse of opioids can lead to dependence and addiction. Tolerance to opioids quickly builds, meaning users need more of the drug to achieve the same effects.

 

Some of the negative effects, both physical and mental, include:

 

  • Coma
  • Collapsed veins
  • Compromised immune system
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased risk of hepatitis
  • Increased risk of HIV
  • Nausea
  • Slow breathing rate
  • Vomiting

Opioid Addiction

Prescription opioids were originally used primarily to treat acute pain post-surgery and chronic pain. Opioids are also used to help manage pain in cancer patients.

 

Throughout the 1990s, though, pharmaceutical companies aggressively marketed these drugs as a supposedly non-addictive treatment for a range of pain. Doctors were encouraged to prescribe opioids widely. With up to one-quarter of people taking prescription opioids becoming addicted, we are still witnessing the backlash of this today.

 

With long-term opioid abuse impacting multiple organs and impairing the way your brain produces dopamine, there is still plenty of work ahead if we want the opioid epidemic eradicated.

 

What are Opiates?

Opiates are narcotic analgesics derived naturally from the opium poppy.

 

Heroin and morphine are the most common opiates.

 

This class of drugs is described as sedative narcotics. Opiates depress activity in the CNS (central nervous system), and they also reduce pain. 

 

Opium plants have been used since 1500 BC, and they have been used medicinally and recreationally ever since. According to the 2016 NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health), 948,000 Americans used heroin in the previous year. Among these, 170,000 were first-time users, almost double the number of first-time heroin users in 2006. Resultantly, 626,000 people were diagnosed with dependence or heroin use disorder.

 

Opiates bind to the opioid receptors in your brain and change the way pain is interpreted. While opiates are highly effective as analgesics, they don’t cure any ailments. The euphoria these drugs produce alters your consciousness.

 

Types of Opioids and Opiates

 

  • Fentanyl (opioid): The most powerful opiate-based painkiller, fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than morphine. The strength of fentanyl means the effects are felt at much lower doses, making it potentially lethal to use fentanyl outside a medical setting. Recently, much street-level heroin in the US is cut with fentanyl leading to a spike in overdose rates
  • Heroin (opiate): Processed from morphine, heroin is a Schedule I narcotic. This means the federal government has established heroin has no accepted medical use. Pharmaceutical heroin in the form of diacetylmorphine is still used in some limited circumstances, especially in Europe and Canada. In the US, practically all heroin comes from the black market
  • Methadone and buprenorphine (opioids): These opioids are FDA-approved as medications to treat opioid use disorder. They target the same opioid receptors in the brain as other opioids
  • Morphine (opiate): A naturally occurring substance found in the opium poppy plant, morphine is used to alleviate pain and other physical conditions. Classified in Schedule II, morphine has the potential for abuse and dependence, but it also has some accepted medical use. Morphine is available only on prescription
  • Oxycodone and hydrocodone (opioids): These semisynthetic opioids are nicknamed hillbilly heroin and used to treat chronic and acute pain. Similar in chemical structure to morphine, the production of these prescription pills is regulated so both the effects and the doses are consistent. OxyContin is a controlled-release form of the drug. Both oxycodone and hydrocodone are classified as Schedule II substances since they both have medical uses

Opioids vs. Opiates

The term opioid was first coined to differentiate pure opiates from synthetic opiates. Originally, the word opioid was applied to all synthetic and semi-synthetic drugs from the opiate class. Often today, you’ll find the term opioid used as an umbrella term for all opiate-based drugs.

 

So, essentially these drugs are the same, except that some are pure, some are synthesized, and some are semi- synthesized.

 

Opioids were first developed in the belief they were less addictive than opiate-based drugs. This caused the belief they had less potential for abuse. With companies like Purdue Pharmaceutical finally pleading guilty to opioid charges in class-action lawsuits, we see this belief was unfounded. Indeed, withdrawal from synthetic opioids can be even more challenging as they are more complex in structure.

 

What can you do if you’re struggling with opioid misuse and you want to reclaim your old life?

 

What Comes Next

You don’t need to face the challenge of withdrawing from opioid addiction alone.

 

Here at Landmark Recovery, we can help you address all the aspects of your life that are unraveling through dependence on opioids. We can provide comprehensive treatment programs, including medication-assisted treatment if needed. This can help to lessen your cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

 

Reach out today and our friendly team will walk you through your various options for recovery. Call us at 888-448-0302.

About the Author

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Landmark Recovery Staff

This post was written by a Landmark Recovery staff member. If you have any questions, please contact us at 888-448-0302.

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