Opioid vs. Opiate: What’s the Difference?

far-flung opioid and opiate practice in the United States is a good national public health crisis, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse ( NIDA ) . The problem not entirely makes headlines but besides creates a dense emotional and economic burden. The devastate consequences of the opioid epidemic include not entirely overdose deaths, but besides an increased count of newborns with opioid coitus interruptus symptoms. Every day, 128 people in the U.S. die from an opioid overdose.

While news reports frequently use the terms opioid and opiate synonymously, there is a insidious but crucial distinction between the two .

Opioid five opiate : What ’ s the Difference ?

The term opiate refers to any drug that is derived from the naturally occurring opium alkaloid compounds that are found in the poppy plant. Types of opiate drugs include opium, codeine, morphine, and opium.

The term opioid, on the other hand, is broader and refers to any drug synthesized from an opiate that produces similar effects. Examples of opioid drugs include heroin, hydrocodone ( Vicodin ), oxycodone ( Percocet ), and methadone. An opioid is any kernel, either natural, celluloid, or partially synthetic, that binds to opioid receptors in the brain and produces opiate-like effects .

This means that while all opiates are opioids, not all opioids are opiates. many organizations use the term opioids for both opiates and opioids. It is besides important to note that while opiates are derived from naturally occurring substances, this does not make them safer than celluloid opioids. All opioids have the likely for addiction and overdose .


The three main types of opioid drugs are opiates, synthetic opioids, and semi-synthetic opioids. Semi-synthetic opioids are created in lab from naturally occurring opiates. celluloid opioids are made wholly in a lab .


  • Opium
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Thebaine

Morphine and codeine are the two of the most normally known natural opiates. Thebaine is an opiate alkaloid that is found in small amounts in opium. While it is not used therapeutically as pain medication in its natural state, it is much used to make other man-made compounds including hydrocodone, hydromorphone hydrochloride, oxycodone, and buprenorphine.

synthetic Opioids

in full celluloid opioids are entirely manmade, have a different chemical structure than opiates, but produce opiate-like effects. These include :

  • Methadone
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Tramadol (Ultram)
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic, Sublimaze)
  • Levorphanol (Levo-Dromoran)

Semi-Synthetic Opioids

Semi-synthetic opioids are synthesized from naturally occurring opiates and have a chemical structure that is like. These include :

  • Heroin
  • Hydrocodone (Lortab, Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin)

synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids are a class of drugs that are made to mimic the effects of lifelike opiates. These drugs are frequently identical potent and, like opiates, can lead to dependence and overdose .

While synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids are often made by pharmaceutical companies for therapeutic use in the relief of pain, they can besides be manufactured and sold illegally .

Fentanyl is one case of a synthetic opioid that has remedy manipulation but is frequently manufactured and sold for illicit use. This drug may be used to treat severe pain, but it is besides used illegally and frequently blend with early drugs including heroin.

The CDC reports that in 2018, more than 31,000 people in the U.S. died from man-made opioids other than methadone. There are besides drugs that act as opioid sense organ agonists. While these are besides considered opioids, they bind to the receptors without producing euphoric effects. Methadone and buprenorphine are opioid agonists that are used to reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.

other drugs, known as opioid antagonists, obstruct opioids from activating the opioid receptors, thus preventing opioids from producing euphoria and other rewarding effects. Naltrexone is one type of opioid antagonist that has been approved to treat opioid use disorderliness .

The CDC besides reports that overdose deaths involving celluloid opioids such as fentanyl and tramadol have surpassed deaths involving heroin equally well as normally official opioids including natural opiates, semi-synthetic opioids, and methadone.


sol how did the opioid epidemic become such a dangerous problem ? Doctors began prescribing more opioids to treat trouble during the 1990s before the risk of addiction and overdose became unclutter. Rates of opioid overdose began to increase dramatically throughout the 2000s, quadrupling in numbers since 1999 .

unfortunately, these numbers continue to grow. In 2017, an estimated 1.7 million individuals in the U.S. had a meaning use disorder related to prescription opioids.

While the term narcotic was primitively used to refer to any psychoactive kernel that had euphoric and sleep-inducing effects, the term is now used primarily to refer to opiates and opioids.

Prescription v Illicit Use

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ), opioid addiction and overdose deaths in the U.S. decreased by 4 % from 2017 to 2018. Of the 67,367 drug overdose deaths in 2018, closely 70 % were opioid-related.

such deaths are caused by both prescription and illicit opioid use. It is important to note that not everyone who takes prescription drug opioid painkillers becomes dependent or misuses them, however. Research suggests that between 21 % and 29 % of people who are prescribed opioid painkillers misuse them. Out of these individuals, an estimated 8 % to 12 % finally develop an opioid practice disorder, and between 4 % and 6 % finally begin using heroin.

While the number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers has declined, illicit use has increased, including the use of heroin .

Whether prescription or illegitimate, opioid pervert can have dangerous consequences. The CDC reports that in 2018, 2 out of every 3 drug overdoses were related to opioid use. Accidental drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death for individuals under the senesce of 50 .

A Word From Verywell

While newsworthiness stories sometimes use the terms opioids and opiates synonymously, there are differences between the two. The terminus opioid is increasingly used to describe all opiates, synthetic opioids, and semi-synthetic opioids .

Regardless of type, all opioids have physiological and psychological effects and have the potential to lead to dependence and withdrawal. Most people who take prescription drug opioids as directed to treat pain will not develop a addiction. Misusing prescription opioids—by taking more than the appointed dose or by combining the medication with alcohol—can increase the hazard of addiction or overdose .