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Opioids vs. Opiates: A Deep Dive into Their Differences and Impacts

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Opioids vs. Opiates: What's the difference?
Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Dr. Mohsin Ali MD is board certified in Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Trained in Syracuse NY, he has worked in Tennessee for the last sixteen years.

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Amidst the escalating discussions about the drug epidemic, the terms “opioids” and “opiates” frequently emerge, often used interchangeably. However, while they share some similarities, they have distinct differences that are crucial to understand, particularly when discussing addiction and treatment options.

What are Opiates?

Opiates are alkaloids derived from the opium poppy plant, Papaver somniferum. These naturally occurring compounds have been used for centuries, both for their medicinal and euphoric properties. The primary opiates include:

  • Heroin: High potential for abuse and has no accepted medical use in treatment
  • Morphine: Used medically for pain relief.
  • Codeine: Often found in prescription cough syrups and pain relievers.
  • Thebaine: Serves as the base for several semi-synthetic opioids.

What are Opioids?

The term “opioid” was initially coined to describe synthetic opiates. Today, it’s a broader term, encompassing natural opiates, semi-synthetics, and fully synthetic drugs, all of which are designed to bind to opioid receptors in the brain and body. Common opioids include:

  • Methadone: Used to treat opioid addiction and pain.
  • Oxycodone: Found in drugs like OxyContin and Percocet.
  • Hydrocodone: The active ingredient in Vicodin.
  • Fentanyl: A potent synthetic opioid often implicated in overdose deaths.

Key Differences Between Opioids and Opiates

  1. Origin: The primary difference lies in their origin. Opiates are naturally derived from the opium poppy, while opioids can be natural, semi-synthetic, or fully synthetic.
  2. Range: All opiates are opioids, but the reverse isn’t true. “Opioids” encompasses a broader range of substances.
  3. Potency and Risk: Synthetic opioids, particularly drugs like fentanyl, are far more potent than natural opiates. This increased potency has been linked to higher risks of overdose and addiction.

The Overlapping Impacts of Opioids and Opiates

  1. Medical Use: Both opiates and opioids are prescribed for pain relief. They block pain signals in the brain and promote feelings of euphoria, making them effective for pain management but also susceptible to misuse.
  2. Addiction and Dependence: Both can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Over time, users may need to increase dosages to achieve the same effects, leading to a dangerous cycle of escalating use.
  3. Withdrawal: Stopping use can result in challenging withdrawal symptoms, including muscle pain, anxiety, nausea, and insomnia.

Tackling the Addiction Crisis

The misuse of both opioids and opiates has led to a public health crisis. Addiction can have devastating consequences, affecting individuals, families, and communities. But understanding the nuances between these drugs can aid in creating effective prevention and treatment strategies.

  1. Education: Dispelling myths and spreading awareness about the risks and realities of opioid and opiate use can deter misuse. Patients must understand the potential dangers of their medications, from addiction risks to the signs of overdose.
  2. Treatment Options: Those struggling with addiction require comprehensive treatment programs that address both physical and psychological aspects. This includes medically-supervised detoxification, therapy, counseling, and long-term support to prevent relapse.
  3. Policy and Regulation: On a broader scale, changes in prescription practices, stricter regulations on synthetic opioid production, and better oversight of pharmaceutical companies can curb the accessibility of these potent drugs.

Opiates and opioids, while closely related, are distinct in their origins and scopes. With the rising tide of addiction, it’s essential to differentiate between these substances, understand their individual and collective impacts, and create informed strategies to combat their misuse. By diving deeper into the nuances of opioids vs. opiates, we arm ourselves with knowledge, and with knowledge comes the power to create meaningful change in the fight against addiction.

Opioid Addiction Treatment in Chattanooga, Tennessee

In Chattanooga, opioid addiction treatment facilities combine evidence-based practices with compassionate care. The primary steps in opioid treatment often mirror those of opiate treatment but can require additional considerations due to the potency of some synthetic opioids.

Opiate addiction treatment centers in Chattanooga offer:

While the terms opioid and opiate are often used interchangeably, their differences are rooted in origin, scope, and potency. Recognizing the distinctions can help in understanding the nature of addiction and the specific treatment required. For Chattanooga residents and surrounding areas, Iris Wellness Group offers opioid and opiate addiction treatment and provide a lifeline to you or your loved one. It’s never too late to seek help and begin the journey toward recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with opiate addiction in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Iris Wellness Group offers a range of services tailored to your needs.

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