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What’s The Difference Between Opiates and Opioids?

Both narcotic medications, opiates, and opioids are commonly known interchangeably. However, the difference between opiates and opioids is that both are controlled substances but contain different compounds. While both entities produce intense feelings of euphoria, their compounds differ. Opiates contain natural compounds, and opioids either fully or partially contain synthetic compounds. 

The similarities are their effects and that both are effective medications for pain management. As with all medications, the higher the dosage, the more likelihood of harmful effects, misuse, abuse, and addiction, as well as the increased possibility of overdose. Opiates and opioids can be effective and safe if taken as the doctor has written in the prescription directions. Adhering to warnings not to mix opiates and opioids with other substances can prevent serious side effects. 

What Are Opioids?

Prescription opioid medications are drugs to treat moderate to severe pain. One difference between opiates and opioids is what they contain. Opioid medications contain compounds of the opium poppy plant, but many are synthetic and made in labs. Highly addictive, opioid medications produce a relaxed feeling and relieve pain. The pleasurable effects of opioids lure people into using the drugs beyond the directive of the healthcare provider. 

Opioids can be either semi-synthetic or synthetic. The semi-synthetic opioids are made in laboratories using opiates. The following are examples of semi-synthetic opioids:

  • Oxycodone: chemically like morphine, treats moderate to severe acute pain. Pure oxycodone is produced and sold under the name of OxyContin. Combined with other pain medications can also bear the brand names of Roxicondone, Percocet, and Percodan. 
  • Hydrocodone: similar to oxycodone, treats moderate to severe long-lasting pain, such as in the case of cancer. 
  • Hydromorphone: chemically related to morphine, it is much more potent to treat moderate to severe pain that has been effective with other medications. The brand name is Dilaudid. 
  • Oxymorphone: Like morphine, it is twelve to fourteen times more potent than oxycodone. Sold under the brand name Oxana, it treats moderate to severe chronic pain. 
  • Heroin: made from morphine, people inject, snort, or smoke this drug. 

Synthetic opioids are made in labs and work on the same opioid receptors to have the same effects as opiates. The following are examples of synthetic opioids:

  • Methadone: treats pain but is also therapeutically prescribed in treating opioid use disorder. 
  • Tramadol: treats moderate to severe pain and is sold under the brand name Ultram. 
  • Fentanyl: fifty to one hundred times more potent than morphine to treat pain after surgery and chronic pain for those tolerating other opioids. 

Opiates and opioid medications can be safe and effective when briefly used to relieve pain. Easily misused, opioids can become addictive because of the pleasurable effects they initiate. The following methods of misuse can easily lead to abuse and addiction. 

People commonly misuse opioids when:

  • Taking a higher dosage than the prescription indicates
  • Taking someone else’s prescription opioid medication
  • Taking opioid medication to get high through crushing pills, opening capsules, dissolving the powder in water to inject into a vein, or lastly snorting powder

The Opioid Epidemic

Due to the alarming number of deaths from fentanyl overdose in the United States, the opioid crisis came to be. The deaths from synthetic opioids, other than methadone, including fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, rose almost sixty % from 2019 to 2020. In 2020, deaths involving synthetic opioids increased nearly twenty times from 2013. Incredibly, the opioid epidemic claimed fifty-six thousand lives in 2020. 

Illegally produced fentanyl is mixed unknowingly with other medications causing severe catastrophic overdose and death. Because of the heroin-like effect, people combine it with cocaine and heroin commonly as a combo product. In its synthetic form, pharmaceutical fentanyl is fifty to one hundred times more potent than morphine. The opioid epidemic has been a major concern for the government, which struggles with controlling fentanyl. 

What Are Opiates?

Opiates are derived from opium poppies (papaver somniferum) and are powerful narcotic prescription medications. The difference between opiates and opioids is that opiates are not synthetically based. Opiate use in treating physical and psychological pain has been known for centuries. Opiates depress the central nervous system to slow down bodily functions to relieve pain. 

Long-term usage of opiates may lead to brain damage. This damage occurs when the brain stops producing natural opiates or endorphins. When this situation occurs, the body can no longer manage pain. If the opiate doses end, an escalation in pain could occur. Opiates and opioids are equally addictive if misuse or abuse occurs. 

Common examples of opiates include:

  • Morphine: treats moderate to severe acute and chronic pain. 
  • Codeine: treats mild to moderate pain and may appear in combination with over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or cough syrup.
  • Opium: made from poppy latex, can be eaten but is often found in powder or syrup to be smoked or made into pills. 

In 2006, over five million people self-reported abusing prescription opiates in the past month. Opiates produce feelings of well-being and euphoria and allow people to self-medicate through emotional numbing from past trauma or mental disorders. The FDA and DEA strictly manage these medications, so dangerous withdrawal symptoms can occur when doctors prescribe them for a short period. Unfortunately, this situation makes users rely on illegal methods to obtain other drugs, such as heroin. 

Genetic, biological, and environmental factors are causes or risk factors determined to work interchangeably to induce addiction to opiates. This thought process is the same as other substance use disorder causes. Opiates and opioids are highly addictive and powerful medications and need to be closely monitored to prevent misuse. If addiction does occur, medically monitored detox and treatment is the safest method of recovery. 

Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal

Opiate and opioid withdrawal is dangerous, and detox needs to be medically monitored in all cases. Withdrawal symptoms are intense and unpleasant but vary with each individual case. As with other substance use disorders, close medical supervision must be given throughout the detox process. In some cases, detox can be life-threatening, to ensure safety, medical personnel must have immediate access to all processes. 

Common withdrawal symptoms can include any of the following:

  • Stomach cramping, nausea, and vomiting
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Spiked fevers and seizures
  • Irritation and agitation
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Intense craving for the drug
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Chills and goosebumps
  • Dilated pupils 
  • Coma

Find Immediate Help for Opiate or Opioid Detox in Georgia

Those with an addiction to opiates or opioids need immediate treatment because of the dangers of this addiction. The Retreat of Atlanta in Georgia offers detox programs for opiates, fentanyl, and heroin and follow-up treatment options. Overdose from these drugs can be fatal, so time is of the essence. Contact us for an assessment appointment today to begin a treatment journey to recovery. 

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