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Opiates vs Opioids: A Guide to the Key Differences

opiates vs opioids

November 16 2019 - Every day, we hear stories on the news about the dangers of opiates and opioids. In the United States alone, more than 130 Americans die every day from opioid or opiate overdose.

You've probably heard the terms used interchangeably throughout your life, but did you know that there is a significant difference between the two?

Keep reading for a side-by-side comparison of opiates vs opioids.

Opiates vs Opioids

First things first, what’s the difference between opiates and opioids?

While most people use these terms interchangeably, there is a very distinct (but simple) difference between the two.

The term opiate refers to natural chemicals derived from opium. Opium is extracted from the opium poppy plant.

Think back to the Wizard of Oz and the field of poppies.

Opioids are chemicals that react with the same receptors in your brain as opiates, however, opioids are not derived from the opium poppy. They are synthetic chemicals made by researchers and scientists.

Opioids can be fully synthetic or partially synthetic. While fully synthetic opioids are manufactured in a lab, partially synthetic opioids are considered a hybrid, where a synthetic chemical is bound to a natural opiate.

Both opioids and opiates are extremely powerful in blocking pain receptors in the brain. Both opiates and opioids can be legally prescribed by doctors for pain relief.

Types of Opiates

Some examples of opiates include:

  • Codeine
  • Morphine

Opiates often have negative effects such as drowsiness and physical dependence. Since the risk for abuse and addiction is so high, these drugs are highly regulated by the CSA, or controlled substances act.

Types of Opioids

Some examples of opioids include:

  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone
  • Heroin
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone

Oxycodone and hydrocodone are examples of semi-synthetic opioids. In terms of oxycodone vs hydrocodone, there isn't much of a difference. Studies show that their pain-relieving properties are nearly identical, however, hydrocodone is also effective as a cough suppressant.


While both opiates and opioids can be prescribed by doctors, the unfortunate truth is that both substances are extremely addictive. It is estimated that over 2 million Americans struggle with opiate or opioid addiction.

Detoxing from these chemicals can be very stressful and ultimately very hard on the body. This can cause extreme adverse reactions during the withdrawal phase.

A person struggling with opiate or opioid addiction should always seek professional help. Quitting cold turkey without the supervision of a doctor is very dangerous and can sometimes be life-threatening.

It's a Give and Take Battle

The war on drugs is an ever-changing battle. It’s easy to judge those who suffer from addiction, but opiate and opioid addiction often stem from some sort of accident, where the doctor prescribed pain medication.

Let’s recap: opiates vs opioids

Opiates are pure chemicals that are extracted from the opium plant. Opioids are chemicals that react with the same receptors but are synthetically manufactured.

For more articles relating to substance misuse, browse through our psychology articles.

More Psychology Articles

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