The terms opiate, opioid and narcotics frequently are used in the same group of terminology when in fact they are vastly different. In recent years, prescription medication has increased in use and abuse, so it is important to know and understand the difference in terminology. What the drugs have in common is in their use, which is to reduce pain from injury, surgery or chronic pain.

The terms opiate, opioid, and narcotic are frequently used in direct relation to each other, which begs the question, are opioids and narcotics the same thing? While these three terms are used seemingly interchangeably, they define subtle differences, and knowing what these differences are is important for a thorough understanding of the properties of these powerful drugs. The differences between opiates and narcotics, narcotics and opioids, and opiates and opioids are explained herein.

Explaining the difference between terminology

are opioids and narcotics the same

  • Opiates have been used by humans for thousands of years, and are derived from the opium poppy found originally in Asia. Opiate drugs such as opium and codeine are natural derivatives  of the opium poppy, and in its strictest sense, the word opiate refers only to natural drugs that are produced from this plant. Opiates come in natural and semi-synthetic forms. Semi-synthetic opiates, such as heroin, are a result of chemical alterations to natural opiates such as morphine.
  • Opioids are a term used to define a wide array of drugs that have the same or similar properties to natural opiate drugs, but are not derived from opium. It is into this classification that all prescription painkillers, such as hydrocodone, fentanyl, and oxycontin fall.  Opioids have the same effect on the brain as natural opiates, causing feelings of euphoria by binding to the three main opioid receptors in the central nervous system (mu, kappa, delta).
  • Narcotics is more of a blanket statement that can contain both opioids and opiates. As far as prescription medication goes, unless the drugs are being obtained illegally, they aren’t narcotics. In a clinical definition, any substance or agent that induces narcosis is classified as a narcotic.

In recent years, the medical profession has moved away from using the terms opiate and opioid in their strictest sense, and freely interchange them when discussing opioid drugs. It is correct to interpret that opiates are natural and that opioids are man-made.

Opiates fall under the general umbrella of opioid drugs. Aside from that, there is no difference in the effect or the side effects of these types of drugs. Both are extremely addictive, physically and psychologically, and are strictly controlled by the federal government, requiring prescriptions in order to be legally obtained.

Important points to consider when dealing with prescription drugs

As discussed above, narcotics often have a negative connotation when it comes to the perception it brings in a medical or clinical setting. It should also be noted that many people who find themselves dependant on narcotics outside of a pain management system are considered to have a drug abuse problem. No matter what the medication is classified as, how it is used, created or prescribed, it is important to speak with your physician or healthcare provider to discuss the potential negative side effects that come with taking a drug that is notoriously addictive.

Our society is in the middle of an opioid epidemic that has led to approximately 116 deaths every day and an estimated misuse of 11 million people alone in the year 2016. Opioid overdoses have cost Americans over $500 billion within our economy and have been associated with 42,000 deaths yearly. Those numbers are only increasing, and of the 116 daily deaths opioid addictions ruin families, destroy friendships and cause pain and suffering within communities.

If you or a loved one is suffering from opioid or opiate addictions, please reach out to United Recovery Center or a local rehabilitation facility to seek help for you or your loved one before the addiction reaches monumental issues. Please read through our articles to pinpoint signs of addiction and methods of seeking help today.