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Opioid vs. Opiates

What is the difference between these types of drugs and how do they impact the brain?

Opium, Opiates and Opioids: What’s the Difference?

It is common to hear to terms “opium,” “opiates” and “opioid.” It may seem that these terms are interchangeable.  Although similar, they are not the same. So what do these terms mean and how do they differ from each other?

Opium is a poppy plant from which a drug is extracted from. The flower is bright red and also known by its botanical name as papaver somniferum. After the petals fall off, an egg-shaped pod is exposed. This contains a thick, syrupy substance. This is opium in its purest form.

Opiates are drugs derived straight from the poppy plant. Opioids at one time referred only to synthesized opiates, chemically made to act like natural opiates. In the medical community, it is still common to hear opiates and opioids separately, but it is typical in society today to refer to all natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic opiates as opioids.

Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin and narcotics, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine. Endorphins are opioids that naturally occur in the human body. Semi-synthetic opioids include heroin, oxycodone and buprenorphine, while fully-synthetic opioids, like methadone, are not related to opium at all.

Opioids bind to receptors in the brain and body to block pain signals, slow breathing and calm the body. The human body creates its own natural opioids but it does not make enough to stop chronic pain.

When used as prescribed and in short-term use, opioids can safely relieve pain but if misused can lead to addiction and dependency. Over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain and since the 1990’s, opioids have been the most common drug to help relieve this pain. However, due to the high risk of substance abuse disorder from opioids and the lack of other options, doctors are at a cross-roads.

According to data from Truven Health Analytics MarketScan Commercial Claims and Encounters Database from individual ages 18 to 64, 40 percent of patients did not receive any follow-up services within 30 days after being in the hospital for an opioid-related instance.

Written By: Jessica Ferrarelli

The number of drug-related emergency room visits is on the rise. Created by: Jessica Ferrarelli