Do you know the difference between an Opiate and an Opioid? Both groups of substances are narcotics and used medically for pain relief, anesthesia, and cough or diarrhea suppression. However, both are used illicitly by those with a substance use disorder. Read more below on the differences between Opiates and Opioids.
Do you know the difference? – Opiate vs. Opioid
The terms opiate and opioid can be confusing as they are often used interchangeably or incorrectly. The term opiate refers to any substance that is derived naturally from the opium poppy plant. The term opioid however is broader and refers to any substance that is synthesized from an opiate that produces similar effects. This means while all opiates are opioids, not all opioids are opiates.
In 2018 the Department of Transportation amended their drug-testing program to include the testing of four semi-synthetic drugs to its panel. Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone, Oxycodone, and Oxymorphone were added and the opiates category was changed to opioids to better reflect the substances included in testing. This was stated as a direct effort to enhance safety, prevent opioid abuse, and combat the nation’s growing opioid epidemic we are experiencing still today.
Physicians began prescribing more opioids in the late 90s when there was an increased focus on pain, especially chronic pain, and how doctors could address this problem in their patients’ lives. Before the 1990s, overdoses and deaths from prescription opioids were extremely rare. A national initiative known as Pain as the 5th Vital Sign (P5VS) was introduced to doctors as a way to subjectively assess the nearly 34 million individuals complaining of chronic pain. This movement incentivized both patients and doctors to attempt to achieve a rating of “0” on the subjective pain scale. And with the timely introduction of OxyContin by Purdue Pharma in 1996, doctors finally had the fuel to combat chronic pain. The pharmaceutical company had fairly aggressive marketing strategies for both the consumer and the physician, promoting OxyContin’s amazing relief for chronic pain sufferers and making sure to state the drug was “abuse resistant.”
Unfortunately, the number continues to grow. In a recent study conducted by Siena College, more people say they are impacted by the opioid crisis than 2 years ago. In 2017, an estimated 1.7 million individuals in the U.S. had a substance use disorder related to prescription opioids.
Opiates and Opioids
Both substances are considered narcotics. The term narcotic comes from the Greek word for stupor, simply meaning sleep or numbness inducing. Most simply know both groups of substances as opioids. Regardless of the term used, opiates and opioids have the potential to treat pain being a narcotic. If a person becomes dependent on one particular opiate or opioid substance, whether medically prescribed or not, switching to a different opiate or opioid substance can help alleviate their dependency by preventing withdrawal symptoms.
The three main types of opioid substances are opiates, synthetic opioids, and semi-synthetic opioids. Semi-synthetic opioids are created in a lab form naturally occurring opiates in the poppy plant. Synthetic opioids are made completely in a lab. Listed below are examples of opiates and opioids.
Opiates are chemical compounds that are extracted from the natural poppy plant. Examples of opiates include but are not limited to:
Opioids are chemical compounds that are generally lab-made or semi-synthesized. Examples of opioids include but are not limited to:
What are the effects?
The purpose of opiates and opioids are to provide a release from pain or produce a positive feeling in the body. The human body has naturally occurring opioids, such as endorphins, which supply a good mood after a hard workout. Unfortunately, taking, snorting, or injecting the substances, naturally occurring or chemically made, can have a significant impact on the body, mind, and brain. Here are some effects:
- Increased tolerance to the drug, resulting in the need to take more medication for the same pain relief
- Physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms when the medication stops
- Sleepiness and dizziness
- Itching and sweating
- Increased sensitivity to pain
- Nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth
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