Are Opiates and Opioids Different?

By now, nearly everyone has heard about the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation. In the late 80s and early 90s, doctors prescribed opioids to clients as painkillers. But what is an opiate vs opioid, and how did both come into being?

They were highly effective at stopping pain, but unfortunately were even more effective at making their users become dependent on the medication. Over the years, research indicated that opioids had the potential for addiction and abuse.

Are they the same thing, or are they two different classes of drugs that are commonly confused?

opiate opioid difference

Opiates vs. Opioids – Which is Which?

Opioids and opiates are different things, even though some organizations use the terms interchangeably. Opiates are substances derived directly from the opium poppy.

Among the most well-known opiates are morphine, codeine, and opium, the grandfather of all of these drugs. In the past, these drugs were used primarily as painkillers or for recreational use. However, with time, they were adapted to a new function – making synthetic opioids.

Synthetic opioids can be either semi-synthetic or fully synthetic. Fully synthetic opioids are made in labs and don’t use naturally occurring opiates as a base. Fentanyl, Tramadol, and Methadone are the most commonly known synthetic opioids, but there are a lot more of them in circulation, not all of them strictly legal. Semi-synthetic opioids derive their properties from an opiate which is used as the basis of the compound.

Heroin, Hydrocodone, and Oxycodone are typical examples of semi-synthetic opioids. Both synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids were created to mimic the natural effects of opiates.

They have shown some level of success in duplicating the behavior of their natural counterparts. Unfortunately, because demand is so high for these drugs, they usually find themselves being manufactured and distributed illegally.

Both opiates and opioids function by targeting specific receptor sites in the human brain. When someone takes these drugs, they bind to those sites and create a euphoric feeling. Over time, the brain starts rewiring itself to make the body dependent on the drug. In terms of an opiate vs opioid, the effects on the brain are very similar.

The more the person uses the drug, the more tolerant they become, meaning they need more of the substance to get the same euphoria they had in the past. At this point, the brain requires the drug for the person to function normally. Some opioids don’t produce a euphoric effect when they attach to these sites, and they’re used in treating opioid addiction.

Methadone is one of the best examples, but even though it doesn’t produce the euphoric effects, people may still become addicted to the feeling the drug creates. Because of this side-effect, methadone is a strictly controlled substance, administered only in treatment clinics.

Opiate Vs Opioid

Prescription Use vs. Illicit Usage

The CDC notes that the volume of drug-related deaths has increased by 5% between 2018 and 2019 and quadrupled since 1999. Many of these deaths were due primarily to misuse of the drug. While opiates and opioids are effective painkillers, they are also highly addictive substances.

Today, thanks to the wonders of modern chemistry, most individuals can scrounge up the things they need to make an opioid with makeshift apparatus. Because it’s so easy to create synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids, there is a much greater level of overdoses since these drugs are not controlled or regulated by any pharmaceutical board.

Since research pointed the finger at opioids for being addictive, doctors have started prescribing them a lot less. Even individuals who were previously prescribed the painkillers were denied future prescriptions.

This approach, combined with the ease of making them in illicit labs, made it the ideal illegal drug for many suppliers. While the volume of opioid prescriptions has gone down over the years, deaths due to overdoses have gone up, suggesting that the illicit trade is far more significant and increasing to this very day.

Is Heroin an Opiate or an Opioid?

One of the most common illicit drugs that an individual may come across is heroin. Heroin uses morphine as its basis, an opiate. It’s usually a white or brown powder and may also be found in a black, sticky form called tar.

Heroin is often more effective at getting to the brain’s opiate receptors than its base drug, morphine. Because of its familiar presence on the streets, heroin tends to be one of the first opioids people use. Increasingly, evidence suggests that many individuals who use heroin started by using painkillers that contain synthetic opioids.

Law enforcement has spent a lot of resources in trying to control heroin, but instead of helping to overcome the opioid epidemic their efforts may have had a negative impact. Ideally, drug enforcement officials would like to reduce the supply of heroin in the market, leading to a spike in its price. If it becomes too expensive, it could be less desirable for the people who typically use it. When considering the widespread prevalence of an opiate vs opioid, this can explain some of the rise in popularity of opioids like Fentanyl

Tragically, the opposite effect has occurred, and widespread usage has continued. On top of this, many of the initiatives by law enforcement to target heroin has led to regular opioid users pooling resources. The result is that many of these opioid users also fall victim to diseases transmitted by sharing needles.

In developed countries, heroin users display a lower life expectancy than others in the same societies. They are more prone to death from violence, suicide, and drug-related issues (for example, overdoses).

Shared needles also carry the looming threat of transmitting HIV to others. Hepatitis B and C are also transmissible through shared needles. Illicit use of drugs like heroin contributes significantly to lost human potential, broken families, and heartbreak. Luckily, rehabilitation centers offer a path to recovery that anyone can follow.

Dependence and Addiction Rates

Dependence, as we mentioned before, happens when a person starts relying on the drug to function normally. There is a distinct difference between being dependent on a substance and being addicted to it, however.

Addiction is a brain disease that relies on dependence. When someone is addicted, they may make poor choices to get access to a substance they are dependent upon. When it comes to an opiate vs opioid, both can easily lead to dependence in a short amount of time.

Opiates and opioids are legitimate painkillers, but their use may be a precursor to using other illicit drugs such as heroin. With time, the body becomes tolerant to these drugs, and the chances of an overdose increase. If this happens, the chances of heart or respiratory failure skyrocket.

If either of these occurs, death becomes much more likely. Using heroin and other illicit substances follow from using opioid or opiate painkillers in many cases. In many cases, heroin can be a lot easier to obtain than a prescription for legitimately obtained pain medications, making it a more attractive choice for dependent persons.

difference between opiate and opioid

Opiate and Opioid Recovery

When a person becomes dependent or addicted to a substance, their cravings will impact the quality of their life. As this goes on, they may decide to seek treatment to leave this problem behind.

However, treatment also has several concerns to address. Quitting a substance forces the body to stop being dependent on it. In many cases, the body rebels, producing symptoms that makes it uncomfortable (and in some cases, dangerous) to stop taking the drug. Withdrawal can be difficult to deal with on one’s own, which is why detoxification and rehabilitation centers offer specialized services to opiate and opioid users.

Detoxification is the first step towards opiate or opioid recovery.

Detox allows a person to remove all traces of the substance from their bloodstream. Naturally, this leads to withdrawal symptoms. Opiate and opioids withdrawal happens in two stages. During the early stage, an individual may have to deal with:

  • Runny nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Insomnia
  • Teary eyes

In the late stage, withdrawal symptoms become more pronounced and may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps

Opiate and opioid recovery start with detoxification, but long-term symptoms may linger. Acute withdrawal symptoms may last for less than a week, but the long-term effects and cravings may go on for a bit longer. The best approach to dealing with these drugs is to taper off their use over time.

This approach allows the body to become used to running with a lower amount of the substance in the person’s bloodstream. When the person finally stops using the drug, the shock to the system is less, and withdrawal symptoms are less pronounced.

If tapering isn’t done correctly, a recovering person runs the risk of developing post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). The form of the drug does not matter, opiate vs opioid, the potential for PAWS forms a concern for anyone detoxing.

This syndrome can last for quite some time, extending the recovery period over months or even years. The incidence of PAWS has been linked to relapse in many individuals trying to recover from opiate and opioid addiction. A person dealing with PAWS may need to seek therapy to help them overcome the feelings that this syndrome may bring with it.

Luckily, some places can help individuals through short-term and long-term recovery. Divine Detox prides itself on offering a sophisticated facility that caters to an individual’s needs. Recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and the staff here create customized treatment plans for each visitor.

If you’re looking for a safe, secure, and welcoming facility to start your recovery journey, contact us today. Let’s overcome the hurdle of dependence and addiction together and help find your way past opiate, opioid, or other addiction issues today.

Divine Detox logo, addiction treatment center in Simi Valley CA