Opioid vs Opiate: What’s the Difference?

Written by Chloe Nicosia

What’s the Between an Opioid vs Opiate?

You may have heard the terms “opioid” and “opiate” when hearing about the drug crisis in the United States and be confused as to what the difference is. In the past, there was a clear distinction made between the two but more recently, they are used interchangeable – even by government agencies. However, there is still a difference between an opioid vs opiate.

What are the short and long term effects of opioid abuse? Click here to learn about the dangerous effects of opiates.

Out of the 63,600 overdose deaths from drugs in the United States in 2016, opioids were involved in roughly 66 percent of the cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even though this statistics accounts for both opioids and opiates, there is no real distinction made between the two, even by the CDC. Is there a difference between opioids and opiates? In this article, we will establish the differences between an opioid vs opiate.

The Classic Opiate Definition

Opiates have been around for thousands of years. An opiate is a classic term used to describe a substance that is derived from the opium poppy plant (Papaver somniferum). For thousands of years, people have gathered the latex found within the seed pods, which they then dry to make opium-related substances. For centuries, it was used to treat a variety of symptoms such as insomnia, pain and cold symptoms among others. The “high” or euphoria that the substance produces was present even in the earlier substances derived from the plant.

Simply put, when comparing the difference between an opioid vs opiate, an opiate is a natural product derived from the opium poppy plant.

Some of the main drugs used today that are considered to be opiates as they are derived from the opium plant are as follows:

  • Codeine: Codeine is a commonly used opium alkaloid. Medically, it is most frequently prescribed for pain relief and it is often found in cough syrup recipes.
  • Morphine: Perhaps the most famous drug in the opiate family is morphine. Morphine is found in abundance in the opium poppy plant and has been used medicinally for years. While it’s often used as a pain treatment, it is also widely synthesized to produce other medications. One of the most well-known substances that are created from morphine is heroin.
  • Thebaine: One of the most toxic substances in the poppy plant is thebaine. It is widely used in semi-synthetic medications include popular prescription medication such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. However, the compound is often removed due its high toxicity.

Defining Opioids

Traditionally, opioids were defined as all of the substances that are synthetically created and do not occur naturally. Opioids act the same way as opiates do by mimicking them and therefore behave and interact in the same way in the brain; binding to opioid receptors. They are created through a chemical process, unlike opiates, or potentially a chemical modification of naturally occurring opiates.

Semi-synthetic opioid examples include hydrocodone and oxycodone. Purely synthetic version of the drug includes methadone and the most powerful opioid, fentanyl – which is up to a 100 times more powerful than the opiate morphine.

Today, people use the term opioids to describe all of the synthetic and natural forms of the drug, meaning that it is a term that can be used for any substance that bids to opioids receptors in the brain, regardless of whether they are manufactured synthetically or derived from natural sources.

Is Heroin an Opiate or Opioid?

Now that we’ve answered the question “is there a difference between opioids and opiates?” we will take a look at when the two terms can be used for a single substance.

Scientifically, there are overlapping characteristics of an opioid vs opiate in a substance such as heroin. The drug heroin is a Schedule I drug and therefore has no medical use and a high chance of abuse and dependence.

When trying to decide between opioid vs opiate in the case of heroin, it is both because even though it comes from morphine which is a natural substance, it undergoes a chemical process to reach the final product. Additionally, other toxins are often added that aren’t natural. However, heroin is generally referred to as an opioid.

Narcotic vs Opiate

So, what is the difference between a narcotic vs opiate? In the past, people would use the term “narcotic” to describe any drug that can be abused. However, it was first intended as a term to describe both legal and illegal drugs that produce pain relief but can cause a loss of consciousness or responsiveness when larger doses are taken.

Since then, it is now used as it was originally intended, which is to describe an opioid. Today, the Drug Enforcement Administration uses the term narcotic when they talk about opioids, and of course, opioids today describe both opiates and opioids (natural and synthetic).

Opioid and Opiate Addiction Treatment

Opioids are widely known to be highly addictive with a high potential for abuse. The supply of opioids legally is strictly controlled for the most part to avoid an addiction forming. If you or a loved one is addicted to the drug, then rehab treatment programs are the most effective solution.

Regardless of the differences between an opioid vs opiate, treating dependence to the substances is done in the same way since the end result of abusing either of the drugs is the same. Of course, individual needs must be taken into account when treating an addiction because the reason for abuse and the person’s unique circumstances can change the type of treatment that is most effective for them.

The Process of Opioid and Opiate Addiction Treatment

The way that opioid or opiate dependence is treated usually always starts with a medically-assisted detox. This is a process whereby opioids such as methadone are used to replace the abused substance, but in a controlled manner. Not only are the drugs given in a way that makes it impossible to abuse through limiting how much is given, but other medications can be added to reduce the effects of using a substantial amount of opioids.

After a person makes it through detox, they can then start on their recovery therapy and counseling. These programs help to address the issues that first led to the initial abuse and the progression of the addiction. Alternative therapeutic methods are often also employed, such as animal therapy, to help patients that are not as responsive to traditional treatments as they should be.

By the end of treatment, a relapse prevention plan should be in place, and aftercare services are made available to the recovering person so that they can continue to get help with maintaining their abstinence.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.