Categories: Addiction

Opiates vs. Opioids: Why They are Both Fueling the Drug Epidemic

The extent of the addiction issue within our nation has continued to rapidly grow with each passing year. A large factor in this problem has been that numerous substances have become more potent than ever, which makes them more likely to lead to addiction. Some of the most problematic substances in regard to the addiction epidemic have been the various types of opiates and opioids. There are both illegal and illicit types, but either of these can be equally as harmful when it comes to addiction. Of course, many of these substances hold a valuable purpose within the realm of medicine, which would be to mitigate the pain of various conditions, but they can also be incredibly risky. When a person begins to abuse their pain medication or use it for an extended period of time, it can easily grow into dependence and addiction.

Opiates and Opioids Differences

The terms opiates and opioids are often used interchangeably, but each of these actually describe two different types of these substances.


Opiates typically refers to types that are derived from the opium poppy itself. There are several different medications and illicit substances derived from this source, and they vary in the part of the plant they are taken from and how they are processed. Some common opiates are:

  • Codeine
  • Heroin
  • Morphine
  • Opium


When it comes to the title of opioids, this generally alludes to drugs that are wholly or partly synthesized. These substances are created through chemical synthesis but they work in a similar way to opiates. Common opioids include:

  • Demerol (Pethidine)
  • Duragesic (Fentanyl)
  • Hydrocodone

Is Oxycodone Considered an Opiate?

One of the more commonly known types of medications is oxycodone. There are many people prescribed this medication that may be wondering: is oxycodone considered an opiate? The answer to that would be no, as it falls under the category of synthetic. Oxycodone itself is a driving force in the addiction epidemic, being that it is very highly prescribed and abused.

Whether it be opioids or opiates, they affect an individual in essentially the same way. Neither will cure an individual’s condition or actually remove their pain. Rather, pain medications alter the body’s perception of pain, which helps to relieve it. They attach to opioid receptors in the brain and this causes an alteration of the signals being sent to the brain. Essentially, the measurement of pain severity contained in this signal is altered. In this way, the person then experiences less pain. While there are differences between opiates and opioids, they can be just as bad when it comes to the addiction epidemic. Prescription rates for both of these types of medications have skyrocketed over the years, which has obviously lead to more people developing addictions.

Aside from pain mitigation, both of these substances also bring about a few other effects that could be considered to be desirable. This includes a sense of well-being and euphoria, which is often what people are seeking when they abuse these medications. Both substances are quite equal in these effects, so they are both abused frequently. There are a few different ways that these substances can be abused. An individual may use a larger dose than they are prescribed or more often than recommended. Some people may also use them in more dangerous ways, such as by snorting or injection. Even medications that generally come in the form of a pill can actually be abused this way as well, as the pill can be crushed and snorted or the powder can be dissolved in a liquid to then be injected.

Opiate and Opioid Addiction and Dependence

As mentioned above, these substances can also carry a risk of physical dependence. This is when a person has been using a substance for such an extended period of time that their body actually grows to rely upon it. At this point, if the person attempts to cease using or goes too long between doses, they can begin to experience horrible cravings and withdrawal symptoms. The severity and symptoms of each individual’s withdrawal can vary depending on how long and how much they were using. Some of the common opioid and opiate withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Runny Nose
  • Irregular Heart Rate
  • Suicidal Thoughts
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Going through withdrawal from opioids or opiates can be hellacious and it is best that an individual be admitted into a proper detox center to safely get off the drug. Detox is essentially allowing the body to expel substances from the system and adjust to operating without them again. Some may think they can cold turkey detox while staying at home, but this is not a good idea. Realistically, detox and withdrawal from opiates and opioids can potentially be dangerous in severe cases or when it is done incorrectly. With a formal detox center, an individual will be under constant monitoring by professionals who can address any complications that come about. As a further benefit, many of these centers provide wean down medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms.

As mentioned above, both opiates and opioids can be extremely addictive. When used as directed and for short periods of time, the risk of addiction tends to be less. If an individual continues to use them for longer periods, they can begin to develop a tolerance, which means that it is going to require larger amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effects. As they start taking higher doses, it increases the risk for dependence, overdose, and addiction. It is important to understand the distinction between addiction and dependence, as they are not synonymous. Dependence is described above regarding the way that drugs physically affect the body, whereas addiction can be said to be when an individual continues to use their drug of choice despite various consequences and negative impacts in their life. Many of those who develop an addiction to prescription painkillers end up moving to heroin as their drug of choice, simply because heroin is cheaper and more available on the street. An individual who is struggling with an addiction to opiates or opioids should attend formal treatment, where they will be able to work through and handle the various factors associated with their condition.

The current addiction epidemic has grown into a problem of epic proportions, but we can begin to change it. There are already efforts around the nation to better address this issue. For instance, it has been realized over the years that punitive and legal measures against addiction are largely ineffective, which has led to a paradigm shift of more concentration on treatment. There have also been efforts to curb the number of unnecessary prescriptions being handed out. Specifically, regarding opiates and opioids, there are also now more law officers carrying.

Naloxone, which is a drug that is designed to stop and reverse an overdose. This allows many lives to be saved and these people can then be quickly sent to treatment.

Addiction can be an extremely burdensome condition, but it can be overcome through the right treatment. That is where Best Drug Rehabilitation comes in, as we help thousands to break free of their addictions every year. We can recommend numerous different modalities, which allows us to craft a custom program for each person. Give us a call today and we can answer any questions that you may have regarding our services.

Best Drug Rehabilitation

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