The difference between opioid and opiate is that opioid is a broad term used to describe any type of substance, either natural or man-made (synthetic) that binds to opioid receptors in the brain (these control pain, pleasurable, and addictive behaviors). Opioids include natural substances, such as codeine, morphine, and heroin; synthetic substances such as fentanyl and methadone; and semi-synthetic substances such as hydrocodone and oxycodone.
The word opiate refers to natural substances that can be extracted from the flowering opium poppy plant, such as heroin, morphine, and codeine. All opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates. It is also important to note that just because opiates are natural, this does not mean that they are less harmful. Opiates are also highly addictive and are frequently misused.
Legally prescribed opioids are important in medicine because they relieve pain after surgery and other medical and dental procedures. The problem occurs when you take an opioid in the absence of a lot of pain. Then you can become used to the feelings of pleasure the drug produces, the “high,” which motivates you to have more of the drug. If you continue to use the drug repeatedly, you can develop a tolerance for it. To get the same “high,” you then need more and more of the drug. This is the addiction cycle. The need for “more and more” is also what can cause overdoses.
Patients who take legally prescribed opioids for severe pain for a long time can become dependent on the drug and suffer mild withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop taking the opioid. For a person who is addicted, stopping opioids can lead to withdrawal symptoms which can be severe. Early symptoms of withdrawal include sweating, insomnia, anxiety, muscle aches. Later symptoms include rapid heartbeat, nausea, cramps, and diarrhea.
Heroin and opium are illegal opiates.
Legal opiates available by prescription include Codeine, Fentanyl, Morphine, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Methadone, and others.