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The terms “opiates” and “opioids” are often used interchangeably. But the truth is, they are not completely the same. It is still acceptable to use these two terms in reference to any substance produced from the opium poppy plant. But speaking in medical terms, there’s a huge difference between opiates and opioids.

Coincidentally, all substances classified under either category are often referred to as “narcotics”.

On this article, we will be discussing the key differences between opiates and opioids, as well as the factors that make them similar.

Opiates and Opioids: The Similarities

Both opiates and opioids are used as pain relieving medicine. They could help treat patients that are suffering from any kind of pain, ranging from moderate to severe. They are often prescribed to help treat cancer pain, surgical pain, and traumatic pain. In some instances, they are used for toothaches.

These substances are powerful, and regarded as some of the most efficient pain relievers in the medical industry. They are used when over-the-counter pain relievers don’t provide enough relief. When stronger medications are needed, opiates and opioids are used.

Both opiates and opioids affect the way the brain perceives pain. It does not make the pain go away, it makes the body unable to detect it. They latch onto molecules on certain nerve cells in the brain known as opioid receptors. By attaching to these nerve cells, opiates and opioids are able to alter the severity of the pain that the patient is experiencing. As a result, pain is reduced.

The problem is that these substances are quite habit-forming. Because of their relaxing qualities, many people abuse these drugs and get addicted in the process.

This is because both opiates and opioids could affect the way the brain feels pleasure.

Do not use these drugs recreationally. If your doctor prescribes an opiate or an opioid, do not take it for longer than is needed, and do not take larger doses than is recommended. Developing dependence is very easy—and presents various health risks for abusers.

Opiates and Opioids: The Differences

Both substances are derived from the opium poppy plant. But opiates are considered “natural pain remedies”. The keyword here is “natural,” meaning all drugs made directly from the source is considered an opiate. Opium is a strong pain reliever on its own, and many other drugs are made from it.

Common examples of opiates are morphine, codeine, and heroin. Opium itself, because of its natural state, is considered an opiate. It is also worth noting that heroin is one of the few opiates that have no approved medical uses.

Opioids, on the other hand, are considered synthetic pain medications. Opioids are a generalized term for synthetic and semi-synthetic medicines that have opium as a key ingredient.

They are manufactured in a similar way to opiates, and have very similar molecules. They work similarly, and interact with the body in much the same way.

Common examples of opioids are methadone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, pethidine, hydromorphone, and Fentanyl.

You may have encountered some of these prescription drugs under certain brand names. Oxycodone is known as Percocet, Percodan, and OxyContin. Hydrocodone goes by trade names such as Vicodin, Lortab, and Lorcet. Fentanyl is also known under the trade name Duragesic.

Opiates and Opioids: Addiction and Treatment

When used properly, these medications are not likely to cause addiction. But if a person takes a much higher dose than is recommended, they may find themselves craving for the drug.

Tolerance begins to develop with frequent substance abuse. The body could no longer experience the same level of relief, even with the same dosage. This soon escalates into addiction, because the user’s instinct tells them to take more.

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Opioid withdrawal is not life-threatening, unless the individual is also abusing another substance such as alcohol. This means that a person can potentially self-regulate and recover from their addiction by gradually lowering their own intake of the substance.

But it is still highly recommended that the patient goes through rehabilitation, so as to prevent the possibility of relapse. With the right treatment plan, they can get educated on the dangers of drug addiction; get emotional support from trained professionals; and have their withdrawal symptoms managed.

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