What is the Difference between Opioids and Opiates?

 

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The use of Opium has been documented as far back as 3,400 BC. The substance came from a specific poppy plant, whose seed pod produced the Opium Resin. It’s been used for both medicinal and recreational use, passed down from generation to generation. Its influence was so great that it has caused wars, notably in Asia during the 1800’s, simply known as the Opium Wars.

During the industrial age going to present times, researchers have refined and modified the original substance, extracting alkaloids which have more potent effects such as Morphine, the first Opiate. They then created more derivatives, resulting in Opioids of different formulations. What’s the difference between Opiates and Opioids?

Opiates: From Organic Roots

Using the word itself, Opiate, the suffix “ate” denotes many meanings. It could mean ‘a person who represents’ such as magistrate or electorate. In medicine, the suffix means “derived from a specific chemical compound.” Opiate means it’s derived from Opium, such as Morphine.

Any kind of substance that’s derived from the original, biological opium is called an Opiate. Technically speaking, Opium, the crude product extracted from the poppy plant can also be called an Opiate. Presently, there are select places in the world where farmers are legally allowed to plant and harvest opium, for the sole purpose of supplying pharmaceutical companies, to help produce Opiates and to aid in research.

Opioids: Synthetic Substances

The suffix in Opioid is “oid,” which means “similar but not a perfect copy.” The suffix can be seen in the word “humanoid,” used to describe something that looks human and acts, but not human.

Opioids are artificial compounds created from other parts of opium, often the less effective parts. In comparison, Morphine is extracted from opium, while Oxycodone is synthesized from Thebaine, a lesser component of Opium, but processed to be just as effective as Morphine.

Both are equally effective in reducing pain, with only the formulations varying in potency and duration.

What Are the Examples?

Opioids are used strictly for medicinal purposes, either for the treatment of chronic and acute pain, to the miscellaneous effects such as cough suppression and treatment for loss of bowel movement. The following are the known Opioids currently used:

 

  • Fentanyl

 

Top of the list due to its powerful effects. On paper, it’s more than ten times more powerful than Morphine and is only in liquid form. This Opioid is often used in a situation where they need to neutralize trauma inducing pain in seconds. The drug is also utilized on cancer patients whose pain conditions cannot be effectively treated by morphine.

Fentanyl also comes in the form of patches, perfect to take advantage of its potency by using the slowest form of administration. This makes for longer durations with fewer amounts, which leads to fewer opportunities for abuse.

Unfortunately, Fentanyl found it’s way into the hands of illegal sellers, who sell the drug in either liquid capsule form or in some cases, in lollipop form, to mimic the slow release of the fentanyl patch.

The common brands of Fentanyl are Abstral, Fentora, Duragesic, Lazanda, Subsys, and Onsolis.

  • Hydrocodone

Compared to Morphine, Hydrocodone has a less potent effect in terms of painkilling. It’s often prescribed to people with moderate chronic pain, like injuries resulting in bone damage or post spine surgeries. They come in pill form that has either a release time of 8 hours or even slower at 12, with varying concentrations.

Hydrocodone is rarely formulated by itself. It’s usually combined with other medications such as anti-inflammatories, antipyretics, or a non-opioid painkiller. (Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen are common partners) Apart from painkilling, Hydrocodone can slow down breathing, making it unsuitable for young children and people with lung conditions such as asthma.

The common brands of Hydrocodone are Lortab, Norco, and Vicodin.

  • Oxycodone

Nearly identical to Hydrocodone in apart from two things. First is the chemical composition, which is simply one element, and that Oxycodone has no cough suppressing effects, unlike Hydrocodone. Oxycodone is also rarely sold in North America and is seen sold in other countries, while Hydrocodone is less sold out of North America.

Oxycodone comes in liquid and pill form. Its effects, like all opioids can be highly addictive, provided the conditions are in place, such chronic pain, and constant psychological stressors. Which why it’s absolutely important to only take the dosage prescribed. You can take less if you’re going to start tapering off.

The common brands of Oxycodone are OxyContin, Roxicodone, Percocet, Endodan, and Combunox.

  • Methadone

A special kind of Opioid meant to treat people with opioid/opiate addiction. Consider it as the vaccine form of morphine; the body recognizes the dosage, but the effects are minimal. Patients may still feel that slight fuzzy warm feeling, akin to the feeling of well-being, but the key effect is that it reduces or removes the effects of withdrawal.

People who take Methadone use the tapering method to get off the addiction. First, they take an amount equal to the maximum dose of the opiate/opioid they took, then over time, slowly reduce the amount until the person is fully detoxified of both the original drug and the methadone.

 

  • Loperamide

 

Since opioids have side effects such as cough suppression and constipation, it’s normal for pharmaceutical companies to take advantage of them. One such product is loperamide, known for its ability to suppress bowel movements by stopping the movements of your small and large intestines.

Presently, the term opioids and opiates can be used interchangeably. Opioids are now used to describe opiates such as morphine and codeine. The word opioid can apply to them as well since they resemble opium’s effect. It’s still advised to never take opioids without a prescription, and when you do have one, only take what’s prescribed, no more. If you plan on quitting opioid use, consult your doctor first before trying. Withdrawal can cause severe issues like heart attack and seizures.

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