The terms “opioid” and “opiate” are often used interchangeably, but now that use has reached epidemic levels and was declared a national emergency, it’s useful to understand the difference between the two and how they affect the end-user, especially if that person is you or someone you love. Both synthetic opiates and natural opioids are a problem in today’s society.

Differentiating Between Opioids and Opiates

In the most basic sense of the word, “opiate” refers to the natural substance derived from opium. Opium is made from the sap of the opium poppy, a plant species native to Asia, which makes it a naturally-occurring chemical compound. Examples of opiates include morphine and codeine.

Opioids are similar to opiates in that they bind to the same receptors in the brain, but opioids are not naturally-occurring substances. Although they are structurally similar, they are often referred to as “synthetic” or “semi-synthetic” opioids. Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and methadone, are manufactured chemically. Semi-synthetic opioids, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, are hybrid substances derived from natural opiates.

Today, the term “opioid” is used when referring to any natural or synthetic or semi-synthetic substance that binds to one of the three main opioid receptors in the brain: mu, kappa and delta. “Opiate” is regarded as a naturally-occurring substance that falls under the opioid category of substances.

A Slippery Slope Than Can Lead to Addiction

Although opioids are used to relieve pain symptoms, their high potential for addiction and prevalence in the United States’ medical community are hard to ignore. For starters, the number of prescription opioids sold to hospitals, doctors’ offices and pharmacies nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2010, and it’s only gotten worse. The United States consumes more opioids than any other country in the world, and it’s estimated that 115 Americans die from opioid overdose every day.

Prescription opioid use doesn’t always evolve into a full-blown addiction. When dosing is appropriate, and use is monitored by a medical professional, opioids can be safe. However, their high risk of misuse increases the probability of addiction. They are also gateway drugs for non-prescription opioids like heroin, a morphine derivative that, although illegal, is easier to get because it doesn’t require a prescription and markedly cheaper.

On a molecular level, heroin and prescription opioids are practically identical substances, so their effects should be similar in theory. Both substances interact with opioid receptors that affect the brain’s reward centers and lead to intense feelings of euphoria and relaxation. However, heroin is much stronger than a prescription opioid like morphine.

Opioid medications can become increasingly more addictive over time, while heroin has an extremely short onset of side effects and is highly addictive. When prescription opioids are taken as prescribed, they produce a much milder, more subdued high than heroin. An individual would have to take much larger doses of prescription opioids even to come close to heroin’s intense high.

Prescription opioids may be useful in relieving pain, but their high risk of addiction is hazardous–even deadly. Boca Detox has seen the devastating prescription opioids and heroin have caused in our own community, and we’re on the front lines fighting against this epidemic. Recovery from addiction is possible. Our natural opiate detox and our medically-supervised detox program can help you or someone you love safely detox from opioids or heroin, a crucial first step toward long-term sobriety. Contact us to learn more about how our detox services can help.