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Opioids are one of the most effective painkillers known in the medicinal world. They contain substances that act like neurotransmitters, which block signals responsible for pain. It does not cure the pain, however, merely keeps the brain from receiving pain signals. It also gives the user a feeling of euphoria, or a good state of well-being, making the drug highly addictive. How do they compare to most psychoactive drugs?

Is There a Difference Between Opiates and Opioids?

Yes. There is a difference between these two families of drugs. What’s the same though, is that they both came from the sap or resin of the poppy plant. The unripe seed pod contains a certain substance that when collected and dried, is called Opium. Both Opiates and Opioids are manufactured from this base compound, and what makes them different is how they are made.


  • Opiates


The word itself means “extracted from opium”, with the chemical suffix “ate” meaning “extracted from.” Opiates are substances that are extracted from the base substance and further purified. The first substance to be extracted is the opium alkaloid called “Morphine,” which sees standard use in most pain treatments, especially with in-patient treatments.

Other compounds extracted from base opium are Codeine and Thebaine. Along with morphine, these are the three compounds that are also called “natural opiates”


  • Opioids


The suffix “oid” means “resembles” which implies that it’s not a perfect copy in one way or another. Opioids are just like that. They are made to resemble opiates to opium, but structurally speaking, they are different. How they are made is also different. There are two types of Opioids: Semi-synthetic and Man-made (fully synthetic)

The semi-synthetic variety is those made by adding chemicals to a base alkaloid, such as Codeine or Thebaine. Hydromorphone, Hydrocodone, and Oxycodone are examples of Opioids synthesized from the alkaloids of Opium.

The man-made opioids are made from base chemicals, combined through a process that turns them into substances that closely resemble opioids. Examples of these opioids are Fentanyl, Pethidine, levorphanol, Methadone, Tramadol, and dextropropoxyphene

What is the Connection Between Opioid and Psychotropic Drugs?

Back in the days, when people suffer from psychological issues such as depression, mania, or schizophrenia, the only way to treat them is placing them in psychotherapy, where their issues are resolved by behavioral adjustments. Progress in Neurology further strengthened the bridges between psychology and physiology and brought the creation of psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants and stimulants made to influence behavior.

The term psychotropic is the combination of “psycho” which means mind or mental state and “tropic” a suffix that means “tendency to have an influence on, be influenced by, or deviate from normal,” all of which apply. They are similar to psychoactive drugs and psychodynamic drugs, and often, some drugs are defined by all three classifications.

About half of the opioids prescribed by doctors all around the world are actually for patients with mental conditions such as severe depression and anxiety disorders. The euphoric effect counteracts depression and the succeeding depressant effect helps balance out anxiety issues, Overall, the opioids override the user’s mental state, temporarily treating their conditions.

This also creates ample opportunities for abuse. The drivers for abuse are often a constant stressor, like their mental conditions, and a constant supply such as what doctors will readily prescribe.

In recent trends, doctors are more likely to prescribe opioids to patients with mental conditions. If these patients take the doses unsupervised, the risk of them taking more than necessary increases dramatically. The risk increases further for patients who have a pain condition, and depression or anxiety at the same time.

What is the Difference Between Opioids and Narcotics

Whenever we think of illegal drugs, more often than not, we think of narcotics. However, the word is often associated with other drugs like cocaine and LSD. Narcotics are another word for painkillers, but it does not include the likes of Ibuprofen and Paracetamol, as they are classified as “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory analgesics”

There are two popular descriptions for Narcotics. The original source of the word came from the Latin equivalent of “to make numb” which directly describes the painkilling abilities of this drug. However, the term Narcotic is also associated with any drug that causes changes in behavior. This is also true in opiates and opioids such as Heroin and Fentanyl, but it also encompasses other drugs like Ecstasy, LSD, and Cocaine which causes a significant change in behavior.

In legal context, the term narcotics, almost always has negative connotations, especially in front of a jury. If a prosecutor states that the accused possessed narcotics, the reception always gravitates to the accused being an addict. In comparison, if they said that the accused is in possession of painkillers, the reception is often more positive. Technically speaking, both statements are true.

As for Opioids, there’s no difference between them. An opioid is a type of narcotic, defined as both a painkiller and a behavior-altering drug.

What Medications Contain Opioids

Not all painkillers are opioids, and not all opioids are painkillers. They are classified by their chemical structure, whether it be synthesized from opium or naturally extracted. The formulations vary depending on the symptoms it’s supposed to treat. The following are the known kinds of opioids currently seeing use in the medical world.

  • Hydromorphone

Also known as Dihydromorphinone, this opioid is synthesized from morphine. It’s known to be at least three times more potent than morphine. Hydromorphone was created to fill the need of people suffering from severe chronic pain that morphine cannot completely solve.  

In terms of its addictiveness and side effects, they are about the same as Morphine gram for gram. Anyone who has stressors and drivers for addiction, or has chronic pain are very susceptible to dependence, and eventually addiction. However, since the painkilling potency is the only effect magnified, the euphoric effect is arguably less considering the low dosage required. This, however, is what’s written on paper, but the subjective opinion varies.

  • Hydrocodone and Oxycodone

Apart from their chemical composition, these two drugs are nearly identical when it comes to effect and usage. Both of them are synthesized from Codeine, made to be stronger than it, gram for gram. They are both sold in their pure forms, but they are both commonly seen mixed in with anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and antipyretic medicine.

Both of them affect the central nervous system, halts transmission of pain signals and produces a euphoric effect. Both are classified as Schedule 2 drugs, meaning possession without a proper prescription can be punished by the law. Their formulations are also made to be taken at certain intervals, not to be taken “as needed.”

Both drugs are used to treat moderate to severe pain, especially effective with people suffering from chronic pain, as both are made with slow release capsules. Both have an equal opportunity to become addictive, so following the doctor’s dosage instruction is extremely important.

As for the side-effects, both are the same. They cause shallower breathing, dry mouth, itching, dizziness, lethargy and rare occasions of vomiting and nausea.

What’s different about them is that oxycodone has no effect on cough suppression. Hydrocodone is also prescribed more in the United States, compared to Oxycodone, which sees more action outside of the country.

  • Tramadol

Technically still an opioid because the base substance was synthesized from Opium. Among all the opioid narcotics, Tramadol is considered the least potent in terms of painkilling but is nonaddictive due it’s diminished effects. It’s used to treat minor pain, such as sprains and tendon damage.

Despite it having a diminished analgesic effect and little to no euphoric effect, it has some unwanted side effects such as nausea, headaches, itchiness, and insomnia.

  • Methadone

The only opioid that has even less potency than Tramadol, but the reason is that it’s not meant to be used as an analgesic. Methadone is created to help treat patients suffering from Opioid addiction such as Heroin and Morphine addiction. The drug still causes minor effects such as a slight euphoria, but its true purpose is to keep the body from experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Methadone is meant to be tapered off. Meaning a patient will start with an initial dose for a week or two, then take less of the drug after another week or two. This continues until the patient completely cuts off Methadone. This is done because even Methadone can cause withdrawal, so by tapering off, the patient minimizes both their withdrawal of the previously addicted drug and Methadone.

  • Loperamide

This drug was formulated to take full advantage of a side-effect. Opioids and Opiates alike can cause constipation, due to their effects in the intestines. Pharmaceutical companies recognized this and created a kind of opioid that cannot pass the blood-brain barrier, rendering the euphoric effects null.

Loperamide works by affecting certain neurons in your digestive system. Your brain and your intestines have similar neurons that accept opioids and when they get affected, their activity slows down, almost to a halt. This in turn effectively stops or controls diarrhea and conditions with loss of bowel movement.

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