Narcotic vs. Opiate

The opioid epidemic led to 116 deaths every day due to overdoses. An estimated 11.5 million people misused prescription opioids in 2016. More than 42,000 people died because of an opioid overdose in 2016, more than two million people were classified as having an opioid misuse disorder, and it costs more than $504 billion economically. The opioid epidemic has undoubtedly ravaged families and entire communities. As part of the epidemic, it can be important to learn what different terms mean, particularly if you’re afraid a loved one could be misusing opioids. Three of the most common terms are opioid, opiate and narcotic. So, what are the differences in opioids vs. opiates or narcotic vs. opiate?

Narcotic vs. Opiate
Opiates are drugs that have been taken for thousands of years. They’re derived from the poppy plant, found predominantly in parts of Asia. Opiates have been long misused for both recreational and medicinal purposes, and some come from natural opium while others are synthetically manufactured to have a structure replicating opium. The term opioid tends to be used to cover any drug that is similar in structure to opium. Within the larger category of opioids, there are natural opiates, synthetic and semi-synthetic substances.

Natural opiate drugs come from the poppy plant, and the term opiate in strictest terms refers to naturally-derived substances. Opium and morphine are two of the most commonly misused opiates, recreationally and as pain relievers. It’s estimated that more than ten million people around the world use opium, and this dark, tar-like substance is typically smoked. Opium is incredibly expensive and powerful. Heroin is a semi-synthetic opiate, and it’s considered one of the most dangerous recreational drugs in the world. Heroin is smoked, snorted or injected and it’s a big part of the opioid epidemic in the U.S. Codeine is also a natural opiate, often prescribed in cough medications.

Synthetic opiates are drugs that have opiate-like effects. They’re related to naturally-derived opiates because of their structure and their effects. Fentanyl is one example of a synthetic opiate, and it’s one of the deadliest. Fentanyl is included in a skin patch for around-the-clock pain. Increasingly fentanyl is being added to other opioids sold on the streets, and when that happens, it causes a spike in overdoses. There are also analogs of fentanyl such as acetyl and butyl. Semi-synthetic opiates include hydromorphone and Narcan. Hydrocodone is another popular prescribed and often misused semi-synthetic opioid, which has a mechanism of action similar to codeine. Oxycodone is also semi-synthetic and is derived from a particular opium alkaloid.

The terms opiate and opioid are used interchangeably almost always. Both opiates and opioids activate the same receptors in the brain, and they can cause a euphoric high. Opiates and opioids also slow down the central nervous system and can cause respiratory depression. Opiates and opioids can cause psychological disease, and they quickly lead to physical dependence as well. There is usually no differentiation between opiates and opioids, despite the fact that opiates are really only naturally-derived substances.
Another term to be aware of is narcotic. The word narcotic is sometimes mistakenly used to refer to illicit drugs. Technically, a narcotic is a drug that relieves pain. Narcotics are the same thing as opiates and opioids. Drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone can be described as prescription narcotics, or opioids. Heroin is also considered a narcotic because it acts on the same receptors in the brain and causes the same effects as prescription opioids.

Narcotics, opiates, and opioids are all drugs that reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain. They all affect certain areas of the brain that control emotion, which is how they’re able to reduce pain sensations. The only main difference between opiates and opioids is that opiates are naturally-derived, while opioids are manmade.

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioids, prescription or otherwise, please reach out to us at The Recovery Village. We have program options available to help you or your loved one overcome opioid substance use disorder and psychological disease.

Narcotic vs. Opiate
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