Opioids vs. Opiates? What Are They and What’s the Difference?

The words "opioid" and "opiate" sound similar and are often used interchangeably. However, when looking at opioids versus opiates, there are key differences. Most people are more familiar with the word "opiate" to describe street drugs like heroin. In contrast, the word “opioid” is often thought of in reference to prescription pain medication such as Vicodin or Percocet. Below we explore the difference in the definition between opioids and opiates.

Opioids vs. Opiates

What are Opiates?

Opiates are derived directly from the opium poppy flower. Opium is referenced in history as far back as 3,400 BC in southwest Asia. The pod of the flower is rich in sap and can be easily refined into a drug that creates a sense of euphoria when taken and is highly addictive.  

Over time, people got better and better at refining the poppy.  Better refining allowed them to increase the power of the drugs they produced: opium to morphine, then to heroin, and finally on to modern medicine and codeine.  The concentration and specific chemical makeup changed as the drug was better refined, but the impact on the human brain remains very similar.

What are Opioids?

In the 20th century, scientists were able to create synthetic opiates that are now found in prescription medication such as oxycodone. These synthetic opiates were named opioids. People still refer to opioids as synthetic opiates, but in fact, it’s easier to consider opioids as both synthetic and "natural" opiates. When we talk about “natural” opiates, we are referring to the opioids that are derived from the opium poppy flower, while synthetic opioids are chemically engineered.

So when thinking about an opiate versus an opioid, you can understand that they are related because most importantly, the entire family of opioids and opiates have a similar effect on the human brain. As you can see from the image below, opiates are a subset of opioids.

All opiates fall under the category of opioids. But, not all opioids are opiates. For example, Percocet is an opioid, but it is not an opiate. Morphine is both an opiate and an opioid since it is made from the poppy flower. Because opioids are inclusive of all types of opiates and opioids, MATClinics uses the word opioid in all of its content.

Begin Your Recovery Journey with MATClinics

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

If you or a loved one struggles with addiction to opioids, please call us at 410.324.6585 or give us your contact information, and we will reach out to you.

Speak to a member of our team to schedule a New Patient visit, or just to get more information.

Thank you for your inquiry, we will reach out to you soon. If you don’t want to wait, please call or text us at 410.220.0720.
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