Opioids vs. Opiates?  What are they?  What is the difference?

The words "opioid" and "opiate" sound similar and are often used interchangeably.  Most people are more familiar with the word "opiate" to describe pain pills and street drugs like heroin.  But there is a technical difference between the two.

Opiates are derived directly from the opium poppy flower.  Opium is referenced in history as far back as 3,400 BC, almost 5,000 years ago in southwest Asia.   The pod of the flower is rich in sap and easily refined into a drug that people have a hard time resisting.

Over time, people got better and better at refining the poppy and moved on from opium to morphine and then to heroin and finally on to codeine.  The concentration and specific chemical make up changes over time, but the impact on the human brain is very similar.

In the 20th century, scientists were able to create synthetic opiates that are now found in Percocet and Vicodin.  These synthetic opiates were called opioids.  People still refer to opioids as synthetic opiates, but in fact its easier to think about opioids as all of the above.  Opioids include both synthetic and "natural" opiates.  

As you can see from the image below, opiates are a subset of opioids.

Opioids vs Opiates


All opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates.  Since opioids are inclusive of all types of opiates and opioids, MATClinics uses the word opioid in all of its content.

MATClinics are dedicated to helping people recover from opioid addiction through access to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT).  Medications include Suboxone and other buprenophine products.  Those medications, combined with counseling, are recognized as the most effective method for treating opioid addiction.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to opioids, please call us at 410.220.0720 or give us your contact information and we will reach out to you.