opioids vs opiates

Opioids vs. Opiates: What’s the Difference?

Despite the media coverage of the opioid epidemic our country has found itself fighting during the past few decades, there is still a steep climb for a lot of us in educating ourselves on what exactly opioids are.

Sometimes I read about opioids and sometimes I read about opiates. Are they the same thing?

It is not uncommon to read about opioids and opiates and understand the words as being used interchangeably. While that isn’t always completely wrong, it can be misunderstood.

“Opioids” is the overarching name for any substance that attaches itself to opioid receptors in your brain and helps with things like pain. Opiates do the same thing, but there is a significant difference that must be considered before simply calling these two things the same thing.

Just keep this in mind — all opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates.

The Opioid Epidemic in Massachusetts

Despite the two things being different, they both have caused a lot of heartbreak and pain in Massachusetts. We often hear about the opioid epidemic and not about the opiate epidemic. Why is this?

In the opinion of most, opiates should be considered a subgroup that falls under the blanket of opioids as a whole. So to avoid confusion, opiates are included within opioid overdose and addiction statistics.

In 2020 more than 2,000 of your fellow Massachusetts citizens lost their lives to overdose, according to the Office of Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healy.

During that time, the charts show a sharp increase in more recent years. According to the Massachusetts Department of Health, another 1,000 Bay Staters died of opioid overdose in the first half of 2021.

What Is an Opioid?

As stated briefly earlier, opioids are the substances that attach to opioid receptors in the brain and positively affect signals your body and brain send between each other with regard to pain and pleasure.

Opioids come in three key categories:

  • Natural
  • Synthetic
  • Semi-synthetic

This class of drugs includes many substances you hear and read about frequently, drugs like heroin, oxycodone (brand name OxyContin), codeine, morphine, and hydrocodone (brand names Zohydro ER or, when mixed with acetaminophen, Vicodin) are all opioids. These substances range from illegal drugs to medications frequently prescribed by doctors across the country.

It can be hard to fully grasp the wide range of drugs that are all opioids.

Synthetic opioids are entirely manmade. While opioids can be completely created from plants from the Earth, synthetic opioids are created without the use of plants at all.

These lab-created synthetic opioids include commonly prescribed drugs like Tramadol and even one of the drugs utilized in medication-assisted treatment, methadone.

Fentanyl is also considered a synthetic opioid. It has very limited medical applications for extreme pain and is consumed considerably more frequently in recreational/illegal forms.

Semi-synthetic opioids are drugs that are partially made from natural plants and partially manmade. After extracting the active ingredient from the plants, there is lab manipulation to create a drug that has the desired effects. Hydrocodone, oxycodone, and heroin are all examples of semi-synthetic opioids.

The category of natural opioids takes us right into our section about opiates.

What Are Opiates?

Opiates, as we mentioned earlier, are a subgroup of the overarching drug class known as opioids. While synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids are at least partially manmade, opiates are natural and created (extracted) from poppy plants.

Opium, morphine, and codeine are all commonly known opiates that are prescribed by doctors throughout the world.

All of these drugs come from the poppy plant. The poppy is a flower grown around many areas of the world for three reasons.

  1. Eating (poppy seeds)
  2. Producing Opium for pharmaceutical use
  3. Producing alkaloids, which are also used pharmaceutically

Consuming Opioids Safely

Opioids, while given nearly entirely bad publicity due to the commonality of misuse and addiction, can and will truly help thousands (if not millions) of people in any given year. Prescription opioids are generally safe when taken for a short time and as directed by a doctor. In fact, during 2020 in Massachusetts, there were 33 opioid prescriptions written for every 100 citizens. The vast majority of these were taken safely.

Again, opioids can be, and often are, misused. Due to the “feel-good” and pain-blocking effects of opioids, they can be taken recreationally or excessively and have addiction potential, regardless of why they’re taken.

If you feel you may be turning a corner into dependency or addiction to opioids, it may be time to reach out for help.

Opioid Addiction Treatment

As we continue to battle through the opioid epidemic together in Massachusetts, the need for treatment continues to grow.

When starting treatment for opiate addiction or addiction to any opioid, it’s important to begin with inpatient detoxification. As you battle back against the dependency and addiction you have, your mind and body go into an intense period of panic.

During this time, it is normal to have general discomfort and intense cravings to return to misusing the opioid that first landed you in detox. It is important to have a dedicated and quick medical team around you to assist with any needs throughout this process, which lasts upwards of a week. At Vertava Health, we can help make the detox process as comfortable as possible.

Following detox, outpatient and inpatient programs are both acceptable forms of treatment to step into depending on the length of addiction and other factors like family and work life.

In outpatient treatment, it is key to find a program within driving distance to provide you with good results without being too much of a time commitment. In inpatient rehab, you must be prepared to completely step away from the commitments of work and social life to focus on the likely month-long stay inside the facility. During this time, it is still best to have contact with your family and friends if possible.

Treatment should include a mix of evidence-based treatments like one-on-one counseling and group therapy. The best programs will also include a mix of alternative therapies like exercise and life skills classes.

Call Vertava Health – Massachusetts Today

At Vertava Health Massachusetts, our number one commitment is to you and your future. We work every day to provide you with the knowledge and power to take with you into your best future. We also work to help those battling addiction and/or mental health disorders at our facility in Cummington.

If you or a loved one is battling an opioid use disorder, give us a call at (844) 906-0978, and let us give you more information about how there is hope for a happier and healthier future.


  • What makes an opiate an opiate?

Opiates are naturally created. Poppy plants are grown from the Earth, and opiates are extracted from those plants. Examples of opiates are opium, morphine, and codeine.

  • What are opioid examples?

Opioids are substances that attach to opioid receptors in the brain and positively affect signals your body and brain send between each other with regard to pain and pleasure. They can come in natural, semi-synthetic, and fully synthetic forms.

Examples include heroin, oxycodone. morphine, opium, hydrocodone, and codeine.

Call Vertava Health now!