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In our most recent poll, we asked readers if there is a difference between an opioid and an opiate. Approximately 65 percent of people responded with the correct answer: yes. But, do you know what that difference is?
While subtle, the distinction between opioids and opiates is significant. An opiate is a drug naturally derived from the flowering opium poppy plant. Examples of opiates include heroin, morphine and codeine.
On the other hand, the term opioid is a broader term that includes opiates and refers to any substance, natural or synthetic, that binds to the brain’s opioid receptors – the parts of the brain responsible for controlling pain, reward and addictive behaviors. Some examples of synthetic opioids include the prescription painkillers hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin), as well as fentanyl and methadone.
It is important to note that while all opiates are opioids, not all opioids are opiates. Additionally, just because opiates are natural does not mean they are less harmful. Just like opioids, opiates are highly addictive and frequently misused.
For more information about addiction terms, visit our addiction glossary.
Hannah Freedman is a communications and digital associate at The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse