Opiate vs. Opioid – Do You Know the Difference?

Do you know the difference between an Opiate and an Opioid?

It seems there are stories in the news every day about the dangers of opioids and opiates and how they are devastating families and communities. But few people know the difference between the two. Here are some facts about both.

The poppy plant creates opiates. Opiates are labeled “natural”, because nature creates the active ingredient molecules. Common opiates include opium, morphine and codeine, both made directly from poppy plants.

An opioid is a substance (molecule) that is synthetic or partly synthetic. This means the active ingredients are created chemically. Opioids act just like opiates in the human body, because of the similar molecules. Common opioids are OxyContin, hydrocodone, fentanyl and others.

Opiate – narcotic analgesic derived from an opium poppy (natural)
Opioid – narcotic analgesic that is at least part synthetic, not found in nature

What about Heroin?

Heroin is the most popular opiate, and a class A drug in the UK.

Genuine “heroin” is an opioid. Heroin is still synthetic, even though it uses molecules from the opium plant in it’s synthesis process.

People can use the terms interchangeably. On the street, “heroin” may mean synthetic, natural, or semi-synthetic compounds. Additionally, people may call manufactured opioids like Oxycontin “synthetic heroin”, adding more confusion.

Currently many references are using opioid to refer to all opium-like substances (including opiates and opioids) and limiting the use of “opiates” to only natural opium poppy derived drugs like morphine.

What About Methadone, Suboxone And Others?

Methadone, Suboxone, Subutex and Buprenorphine are all classed as Opioids as they have been purposefully modified to provide medications that are slow release and normally last over a 24 hour period. Others have also been modified to include other medication such as Naloxone (Narcan) to prevent addicts “using on top” of their prescribed medication.

Top Tips For Opioid Addicts & What To Do If You Need Treatment

The brutal fact is both opiates and opioids are highly addictive and can be life-threatening when the dependency becomes out of control. The best option to avoid overdose, infections or blood borne viruses (if injected), or lung damage and chronic breathing conditions such as COPD is by following our suggestions below:

  • Speak to your nearest drug and alcohol service who will provide you with a full assessment of your needs and offer you other treatment alternatives such as medication assisted treatment (MAT) such as Methadone or Subutex, auricular acupuncture, one-to-one or group therapy and others. They can also either recommend that you receive treatment in your community as an outpatient or refer you to go into a residential rehabilitation facility who can normally provide you with a detox first and then straight into rehabilitation. They are normally done this way as only detoxing without receiving psychological and physical treatment for your addiction is likely to fail after a very short period of time. Contact information for your nearest drug and alcohol service can be found on our help and support page here.
  • Do not use alone! If you overdose, nobody can help you and the risk then of death is substantial.
  • Ask your drug and alcohol service or GP for an emergency naloxone (Narcan) kit, this will reverse the overdose of opioids.
  • Use the smallest amount of drugs as possible. This minimises your risk of overdose.
  • If you must use opioids, try to smoke or sniff it instead of injecting as this will firstly help reduce your risk of overdose and secondly will lower your risk of infections at injection sites and blood borne viruses such as hepatitis and HIV.
  • If you must inject, never share injecting equipment (even tourniquets and cleansing swabs), and again, don’t inject alone and use as little as possible.
  • Try to use the same dealer each time to minimise the risk of getting a super strong batch and overdose or have some foreign materials in that could be fatal.
  • If your dealer has a new batch or you have to use a different dealer, try a small amount first so that you know what it’s like.

Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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