The Difference Between Opiates and Opioids

Throughout today’s culture, people are abusing drugs at an increasingly alarming rate. Some of the most commonly abused sub

May 22

Throughout today’s culture, people are abusing drugs at an increasingly alarming rate. Some of the most commonly abused substances include heroin, morphine, codeine, and prescription painkillers. In fact, in 2015, the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality reported that two million people had a substance use disorder including prescription painkillers, while another 591,000 had a substance use disorder including heroin. And, drug overdose, which occurs when an individual consumes too much of a substance that his or her body cannot process it, is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.

As conversation (and often times controversy) swirl around the prescription painkiller and heroin epidemic, many people are being affected by the abuse of these substances. From the users to their families, co-workers, and friends, drugs like Vicodin and fentanyl can cause irreparable damage to everyone’s physical, psychological, and spiritual wellbeing. Because of the prevalence of this problem throughout the United States, it is important to be as educated as possible about this topic in order to truly understand how the disease of addiction infiltrates the lives of millions of people nationwide.

Part of this education includes knowing information about common, yet dangerous, substances of abuse. With the opioid epidemic in full swing, people often refer to all of these drugs as “opioids” or “opiates”, often interchangeably. To put it simply, opiates and opioids, while capable of producing similar effects, are not the same. And while many people might use these words on a regular basis, it is important to understand that there are significant differences between them.

What are Opiates?

Opiates are a group of substances that are derived from the opium poppy, which is naturally occurring. Historically, opium poppy grew in masses throughout Southwest Asia, and as the demand for it grew, it spread throughout several other countries. Now, it is cultivated across the globe.

Examples of opiates include heroin, codeine, morphine, and opium. Opiates can be used in their purest form, or they can be used in the development of other drugs.

Unfortunately, opiates are highly addictive and are commonly abused throughout the country. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that in 2016, 948,000 Americans had used heroin within the past year. Prevalence of heroin abuse has increased over the years, as 214,000 were using in 2002 and 626,000 were using as of 2016. Additionally, as previously stated, more than two million people are currently abusing prescription painkillers, some of which include opiates.

What are Opioids?

Unlike opiates, opioids are not derived from the opium poppy. Instead, they are often semi-synthetic or synthetic, meaning that they are partially or fully manmade.

The term “opioid” was developed in the 1950’s as a way to describe drugs that are opiate-like. This does not mean that opioids are less dangerous than opiates; rather it just helps explain the difference between the two. Opioids are tremendously addictive, can cause severe physical and psychological complications, and can lead to death. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the top opioids involved in overdose deaths include methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, respectively.

drug deal

Opiates in Depth

The most common opiates that are abused in the United States, without a doubt, include heroin and morphine. These opiates can produce several different effects and dangers when abused, and can potentially lead to death.


Also known as smack, horse, or China white, heroin comes in either a white or brown powder or as a sticky, black substance. It can be injected, smoked, or snorted. Heroin is most commonly injected, which gives users the most instantaneous high. However, it also increases their risk of contracting blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis, which are both very common ailments for those who abuse this substance.

Short-term effects of heroin abuse include itching, nausea, vomiting, euphoria, and slowed heart and breathing rates. When heroin is abused for a long period of time, risks become more significant and can include collapsed veins, kidney or liver disease, and infection surrounding the heart. Additionally, if abused with another substance like alcohol, a user can quickly overdose as his or her organs slow down in function.


Morphine comes in capsules, tablets, or liquid, and goes by street names such as Mister Blue and Dreamer. It is often abused for its ability to produce euphoric effects, similar to that of heroin. However, it can be an extremely dangerous substance to abuse, as it can also produce effects such as gastrointestinal problems, organ damage, poor circulation, respiratory depression.

The abuse of morphine can also lead to overdose, which may or may not be fatal.

Opioids in Depth

Oxycodone and hydrocodone are some of the most popular opioids in circulation. Millions of people are prescribed these substances for issues such as chronic pain and pain due to cancer, however many more abuse oxycodone and hydrocodone for self-medication purposes.

Oxycodone and hydrocodone

Oxycodone and hydrocodone come in pill form and can be abused by swallowing it or crushing it and then snorting it. When abused, oxycodone and hydrocodone produce the same euphoric effects as opiates like heroin and morphine do.  And, the effects that these substances have also mimic those of opiates.

Effects most commonly tied to the abuse of oxycodone and hydrocodone include slowed breathing, nausea, vomiting, confusion, changes in sleep patterns, and problems being awakened.

Oxycodone is known by the brand name OxyContin, while hydrocodone is known as Vicodin.

Treatment for Opiate and Opioid Addiction

Regardless of if an individual is addicted to an opioid or an opiate, the typical course of treatment is usually the same.

Most treatment for these types of addictions begins with detox, which helps clear the body and mind of dangerous substances of abuse (such as opiates and opioids). Detoxing off of opiates and/or opioids is notoriously painful from both a physical and psychological standpoint. However, when conducted in a professional treatment center, patients can be made as comfortable as possible during this time.

Once detox is completed, patients can begin the process of therapy. Through the application of numerous different forms of therapy, ranging from individual and group therapy to experiential and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), patients will develop coping skills, identify the underlying causes of their addiction, and process the emotions that have led to or developed in response to their addiction. When it comes time to complete the treatment program, patients will be provided with an aftercare program that includes professional suggestions on how to maintain sobriety and practice recovery in the patient’s everyday life.

Get Help Today

If you are addicted to opiates or opioids, or any other substance, please reach out to us right now. We understand the pain that you are experiencing, and we know that we can help. Please contact us today.

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