Is There A Difference Between Opioids and Opiates?

In This Article

Opiates are drugs that are naturally derived from the opium poppy, whose botanical name is Papaver somniferum. Over millennia, this plant has discovered a way to disarm its enemies and make its benefactors, including humans, want more of it. The natural drugs that come from the poppy include morphine and opium. Opioids include drugs that are synthetic opiates, such as heroin as well as drugs naturally derived from the opium poppy. Other opioids are include

• Thebaine
• Codeine
• Buprenorphine
• Methadone
• Carfentanil
• Oxycodone
• Fentanyl
• Suboxone. Interestingly, though suboxone is itself an opioid, it is given to stop overdoses from other opioids.

Some of the most widely abused opioids are derived from morphine. They include oxycodone and hydrocodone, Demerol and Dilaudid. The abuse of oxycodone has spread dramatically in the past 20 years due to its being a widely prescribed painkiller. Methadone is taken in pill form. Because it is long lasting, it is used to ease patients off of their opioid addiction. Because its effects come on gradually, it spares the patient the pain of withdrawal without giving them the high associated with opioids. Methadone is also used for chronic pain relief.

Fentanyl is a fast acting pain killer used by anesthesiologists. Doctors prescribe it in the form of patches to bring long lasting relief from pain and in the form of lollipops to give to children before they undergo surgery. Carfentanil is basically an animal tranquilizer. It is so powerful that a small amount of it can take down an elephant. Some people believe that a person can feel the effects of carfentanil simply by touching it, though stories of people getting high or even overdosing just from getting this opioid on their skin maybe apocryphal.

Doctors prescribe opioids to relieve pain. They also prescribe them to treat diarrhea and as cough suppressants. Opioids are very addictive drugs, and a doctor must prescribe them with care to avoid the patient becoming dependent on them. About 8 to 12 percent of patients who take prescription opioids do become dependent on them, sometimes to the point where they resort to street opioids to continue their addiction.

How Opioids Work

Opioids work by binding with the mu, delta or kappa receptors in a person’s central nervous system. Endogenous pain killers call endorphins also lock into these receptors, but they are nowhere near as powerful as opiates and opioids, and the patient can’t overdose on them.

The effects of the opioid depends on how strongly the particular drug binds to the opioid receptor in the central nervous system. Morphine and fentanyl bind strongly to the receptors, while codeine binds weakly. Opioids defeat the blood brain barrier which usually keeps toxins out of the central nervous system. Heroin and fentanyl are extraordinarily good at this and can even pass into the central nervous system through the lining of the nose. This is why people get high from snorting these two drugs.

The effects of an opioid also depend on how the drug is taken. An opioid that is injected causes an initial, powerful euphoria that subsidies into a dreamy, nearly pain-free state. The person’s breathing slows down, their pupils constrict and their skin may flush. If the opioid is taken another way, the person may just be pleasantly drowsy instead of experiencing the rush. Some people become nauseated, vomit or suffer from constipation.

Eventually, a person who keeps taking opioids develops a tolerance for them. Tolerance isn’t addiction but happens when the person needs to take more and more to get the same euphoria they experienced the first time. Sometimes the person needs to take many times the original dosage to experience this euphoria. If they had taken the same amount of opioid their first time, it most likely would have caused them to overdose or would have even killed them.

After the person develops a tolerance, they become addicted. Addiction means that the person experiences the symptoms of withdrawal if they are without the drug for a time. Though opioid withdrawal is not as unpleasant or dangerous as withdrawal from benzodiazepines, the symptoms are bad enough for the person to do just about anything to get the drug.

Opioid Withdrawal


The onset of opioid withdrawal symptoms depend on whether the drug is long or short acting. In a short-acting opioid, the symptoms start within six to 12 hours after the last dose. Symptoms start around 30 hours after the last dose with long-acting opioids. How bad the withdrawal is depends on how much of the opioid the person took, how long they were addicted to it, what the opioid of choice was and the state of the person’s overall health. Early withdrawal symptoms are:

• Muscle aches
• Agitation
• Anxiety
• Fever
• Yawning
• Insomnia
• Tearing eyes
• Runny nose
• Sweating
• Fast heartbeat
• High blood pressure

Later symptoms include:
• Stomach cramps
• Diarrhea
• Depression
• Cravings
• Nausea and vomiting
• Blurred vision
• Dilated pupils
• Gooseflesh

These symptoms peak within 72 hours, and the physical symptoms eventually go away after about a week. The psychological symptoms can last much longer.


A patient can undergo a medical detoxification where they are monitored during their withdrawal and given medications to ease the worst of the symptoms. They are also given nutrients and hydration to keep them strong through the ordeal.Medical staff may prescribe medications such as clonidine, suboxone or methadone to ease withdrawal symptoms.

The Opioid Epidemic

As of 2018, an opioid epidemic is ravaging the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 1000 people go to the emergency room to be treated for problems related to their opioid use. About 91 people die daily from opioid overdose. This results in over 33,000 people dying from opioid abuse every year.

Older, non-Hispanic white women are more likely to abuse opioids, but more men die from them. Most people who abuse opioids get them from friends or relatives who do not charge them for the drugs or who may not be aware they are taking them. The states where opioid prescription rates are very high tend to be southern states. It is not known why this is.

Call For Help

If you feel your opioid use is out of control, do not hesitate to call us today at 888-380-0667. Our counselors are ready to help 24 hours a day.

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