Opiates and Opioids

What Are Opiates?

Opiates refer to an extensive class of drugs that span from commonly prescribed pain medications to illicit drugs such as opium and heroin. Medically, most opiates are used for their analgesic effects to treat moderate to severe, acute and chronic pain. Opioids work by blocking the brains pain signals. They attach to proteins called opioid receptors located in the body’s central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract and other organs.

Opioid pain medications can be very effective and helpful when used as prescribed for medical purposes. Nonetheless, prescription pain medications and illegal opiates or “street drugs” have the same addictive properties. Most opiate medications are classified under Schedules II and III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) for their addictive properties. In addition, heroin is an illegal opiate drug with no accepted medical use in the U.S. and a high potential for abuse. For these reasons it is a Schedule I substance under CSA.

What are the Difference Between Opiates and Opioids?

Originally, the term opiate was limited to drugs derived from opium, which naturally occurs in the resin of poppy plants. Natural opiates include morphine, codeine and thebaine.

Semi-synthetic and purely synthetic substitutes for opiates are often called opioids. Heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone and hydromorphone are semi-synthetic derivatives of opium. Fully synthetic opioids (those created in laboratories) include methadone, fentanyl and tramadol, and do not contain any natural opium derivatives.

The terms opiate and opioid are often used interchangeably, with opioid being the more general and all inclusive term.

Commonly Used and Abused Opiates and Opioids

Natural Opiates


Semi-synthetic Opioids

Generic Name (Brand Name)
Hydrocodone (Vicodin and Lortab and Lorecet)
Oxycodone (Oxycontin and Percodan and Percocet)
Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
Oxymorphone (Opana and Numorphan)
Buprenorphine (Buprenex and Suboxone and Subutex)

Synthetic Opioids

Methadone (Dolophine and Methadose)
Fentanyl (Actiq and Fentora and Duragesic and Sublimaze)
Tramadol (Conzip and Rybix ODT and Rysolt and Ultram)

What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Opiate Addiction?

Taking opiates over an extended period of time can create a natural tolerance to the drug, requiring higher doses to produce the desired effects. Eventually users can become psychologically and physically dependent on opioids, which may lead to addiction.

Opiates can produce a sense of euphoria for a subset of users who take the drug for medical purposes. Likewise, recreational users will take the drug for the sole purpose of getting high. In either case this also often leads to opiate abuse and addiction.

Symptoms of Opiate Addiction

Drowsiness and "nodding" Constricted pupils
Fatigue Impaired coordination
Slowed breathing Slowed heart rate
Slowed reflexes

Signs of Opiate Addiction

If you find yourself constantly craving opioids and engaging in drug seeking behavior such as doctor and pharmacy “shopping”, then you may be addicted to the drug. Opioid medications are intended to relieve pain and improve the quality of your life. If the drug is causing harmful effects on your health and life instead of helping you, it is time to seriously consider treatment.

Likewise, if you are using opioids without a doctor’s prescription and are administering it in ways not intended such as crushing and snorting the pills to high, then seek medical attention. If you don’t, then opiate abuse and addition can result in devastating consequences, even death.

Withdrawal–What Happens When You Stop Taking Opiate?

Stopping or significantly reducing the use of opiates after heavy and prolonged use can be an unpleasant experience and result in withdrawal syndrome. That is why the assistance of trained medical professionals may be necessary during opioid detox and withdrawal stages. The wide range of withdrawal symptoms includes:

Early Symptoms of Withdrawal

Irritability Anxiety Runny nose
Muscle aches and bone pain Increased tearing Insomnia Sweating

Late Symptoms of Withdrawal

Abdominal cramping Dilated pupils Diarrhea
Vomiting Cold flashes with goose bumps Nausea

Opiate Addiction Help and Treatment

Opiate addiction is a disease the can be treated successfully through the direction and assistance of A1 Behavioral Health Services’ Intensive Outpatient Program. Our caring and experienced professionals will develop a detoxification plan under medical supervision to meet your specific needs, which may include the use of medications such as clonidine to help you with a comfortable withdrawal.

A1 Behavioral Health Services also offers ongoing programs to prevent opiate relapse, a critical component of aftercare. Without this help some recovering abusers will return to opiate use after withdrawal and detox. Users who relapse become susceptible to overdose deaths because their tolerance was reduced during the initial treatment, making them prone to overdose on significantly smaller doses then they took prior to opioid detox.

Get the help you deserve today. If you have any questions about opiate or opioid abuse, addiction and treatment call our 24/7 Addiction Helpline at (855) 904-7873. All calls are toll-free and confidential. You can also visit us online for more information at A1 Behavioral Health Services.

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  • Dilaudid (Hydromorphone)
    • Dilaudid is the name brand of a drug called hydromorphone. It is a strong analgesic belonging to the opioid class of drugs and a derivative of morphine.
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    • Fentanyl is a powerful opioid drug prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain.
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  • Opana (Oxymorphone)
    • Opana is the brand name of a medication that contains oxymorphone, which belongs to a class of drugs called opioids.
  • Opiates
    • The opiate drug class is one that is derived from the opium poppy, a plant that is commonly found in heroin and many other pain reducing medications.
  • OxyContin (Oxycodone
    • OxyContin is a brand name of a semi-synthetic opiate, oxycodone. It is a narcotic analgesic prescribed to relieve moderate to severe chronic pain.
  • Percocet (Oxycodone)
    • Percocet is the trade name for the drug oxycodone — a semi-synthetic opioid that has twice the analgesic potency as morphine.
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    • Tramadol is an opioid-like drug, which is prescribed to treat moderate to moderately severe pain. Brand name versions of tramadol include Ultram, Ultram ER and Conzip.
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    • Xanax is a brand name for the drug alprazolam. It belongs to a class of medications called benzodiazepines, which are sometimes referred to as tranquilizers, sedatives and depressants.

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