Narcotic vs. Opiate
An estimated 11.5 million people misused prescription opioids in 2016. More than 42,000 people died because of an opioid overdose in 2016, and more than two million people were classified as having an opioid misuse disorder. The opioid epidemic 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 or struggling with an opioid addiction. Three of the most common terms are opioid, opiate and narcotic.
Opioids have been long used 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. The term “narcotic” is typically used interchangeably with the term “opioid.”
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 when misused. 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 acetylfentanyl and carfentanil. Semi-synthetic opiates include hydromorphone. 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.
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 and the reward center. The only main difference between opiates and opioids is that opiates are naturally-derived, while opioids are man-made.
If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, reach out to The Recovery Village. We have program options available to help you or your loved one overcome opioid substance use disorder.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
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