Opiates and opioids


Opiates and opioids

Opiates and opioids

News of the opioid crisis in Australia has become a topic of much concern (AJP, 2018).  Sometimes you hear the word “opioid” and sometimes you hear “opiate”.  Are opiates and opioids the same thing?

Natural Opiates

People have been using natural plant extracts to help heal and relieve pain for thousands of years.  The opium poppy plant is one such natural pain reliever.  Drugs derived from the opium poppy include morphine, heroin, codeine, and opium (Alta Mira, n.d.). Drugs derived from this plant have the powerful ability to relieve pain. However, they also are highly addictive.

Opiates and opioids

Synthetic Opioids

Opioids are pain relieving drugs. They are at least made partly of synthetic materials. Most are made in a lab (Oregon, n.d.). Opioids work in much the same way as opiates, but they don’t require the opium poppy to be manufactured.

Some examples of opioids include fentanyl, pethidine, methadone, (National Institutes of Health, 2014), hydrocodone and hydromorphone (Institute for Medical Education, n.d.). These are prescribed by physicians to relieve both acute and chronic pain.  Like natural opiates, opioids are highly addictive.

Both Work in the Same Way

Both opiates and opioids work in a similar way (Alta Mira, n.d.). They have chemicals that when taken internally will bind to opioid receptors on nerve cells.  When they bind to those receptors, the nerve cells tell the brain that the pain is lower than it actually is.

As times goes, it takes more and more of the drugs to provide the same feeling of relief.  Additionally, if someone who is not in physical pain takes the drugs, opioids will provide a feeling of euphoria (a high feeling) and also relaxation.

Many people who become physically and psychologically addicted to opioids start by being prescribed them for legitimate pain.  Unfortunately, over time they may become dependent on the drugs to feel normal, or even to escape or at least blunt their psychological pain. Prescription opioids can also be a risk factor for heroin addiction (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2018).

In the times of opioid manufacturing, physicians were told that these synthetic medications were not addictive and they began prescribing them widely.  However, years of research and experience now show that these substances are highly addictive (The Atlantic, 2018).

Illegal Opiates

While most of these drugs can be prescribed, there are still non-prescription drugs such as heroin that are indeed illegal.  Unfortunately, many people who become addicted to prescription opiates and opioids progress to heroin when they’ve exhausted the ability to obtain prescriptions.

Along with the dangers of addiction and overdose, injection drug use also comes with risks of infection from hepatitis C and HIV.  Along with the opioid crisis in Australia, the United States also experiences a major crisis (The Atlantic, 2018).

What can be done? Here is an interesting article from WebMD/Sonya Collins which talks about alternatives to the use of prescription opioids (at least as sole use for pain relief).

Thank you for visiting Beyond My Label.

Remember- You are not a label. Stand up to stigma.

Best regards,

Paul Inglis.


AJP, (2018). How can Australia stop the opioid epidemic before it’s too late? Retrieved November, 1, 2018, from https://ajp.com.au/columns/opinion/how-can-australia-stop-the-opioid-epidemic-before-its-too-late/

Alta Mira, (n.d.). What is the difference between opiates and opioids? Retrieved November 1, 2018, from https://www.altamirarecovery.com/opiates/difference-opiates-opioids/

Institute for Medical Education, (n.d.). Interpretation of opiate urine drug screens. Retrieved November 1, 2018, from https://www.healthpartners.com/ucm/groups/public/@hp/@public/@ime/@content/documents/documents/cntrb_031044.pdf

National Institute of Drug Abuse, (2018). Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. Retrieved November 1, 2018, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-heroin-abuse/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use

National Institutes of Health, (2014). Real teens ask: What are the different types of opioids? Retrieved November 1, 2018, from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/real-teens-ask-what-are-different-types-opioids-0

Oregon, (n.d.). “Opiates” or “opioids” — What’s the difference? Retrieved November 1, 2018, from https://www.oregon.gov/adpc/Pages/Opiate-vs.-Opioid.aspx

The Atlantic, (2018). An ‘overprescription of opioids’ that led to a crisis. Retrieved November 1, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/06/opioid-epidemic/563576/

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