Opioids vs. Opiates: What's The Difference? - Suboxone Treatment Clinic

The opioid crisis has been affecting the United States for more than 20 years. Unfortunately, it is showing no signs of slowing down. Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, every state in the nation experienced a dramatic spike in opioid overdose deaths. Between May 2020 and April 2021, more than 100,000 Americans died from drug-related overdoses–the most ever recorded in one year. The vast majority of these overdoses involved opioid drugs.[1]

A nearly 30% increase in opioid overdoses has been partially attributed to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Fentanyl is a Schedule II controlled substance that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.[2]

However, synthetic opioids aren’t the only opioids being abused. Some opioids are naturally occurring and others are only partially synthesized in a lab. The terms “opioid” and “opiate” are often used interchangeably, but the first is a broad term and the second is used to describe naturally-occurring opioid drugs. Regardless, all opioids and opiates are highly addictive and are contributing to the current opioid crisis.

What are Opioids?

The CDC defines opioids as a term referring to all natural, semisynthetic, and synthetic opioids.[3] Natural opioids are narcotics that are derived from the opium poppy plant that is native to areas in Southeast Asia.[4] Semisynthetic opioids are partially synthesized from naturally occurring compounds, but also include molecules that are manufactured in a lab. Lastly, synthetic opioids refer to medications that are not naturally occurring and that are designed and manufactured in a lab.

Examples of natural opioids (also known as opiates) include:

  • Opium
  • Morphine
  • Heroin
  • Codeine

Examples of semisynthetic opioids include:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Norco)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicodone, Percocet)

Examples of synthetic opioids include:

  • Tramadol
  • Demerol
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl
  • Carfentanil
  • Acetyl fentanyl
  • Butyryl fentanyl
  • U-47700

Regardless of whether an opioid is considered natural or not, all work in a similar way. Opioids attach to the opioid receptors in the brain to affect pain signals that are being sent from the brain to areas of the body. These medications are prescribed to help manage pain after surgery or traumatic injury.

What are Opiates?

As defined by the CDC, opiates are naturally-occurring opioids.[3] These medications are made from chemical compounds that are extracted from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. Examples of opiates include:

  • Opium
  • Morphine
  • Heroin
  • Codeine

All opiates are opioids. The term simply refers to naturally-occurring ones–not the ones that are synthesized in the lab.

The Key Difference Between Opioids and Opiates

The term “opioids” can be used to accurately describe all drugs belonging to the opioid class. It describes opioids that are naturally occurring and synthetic. The term “opiates,” on the other hand, only describes opioids that are natural or derived from the opium poppy plant.

The only difference between these two terms is that one (opiate) refers to a specific type of opioid and the other (opioid) refers to synthetic, semisynthetic, and naturally-occurring opioid drugs. All opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates.

Florida’s Opioid Epidemic

Whether a person has been taking a synthetic or naturally occurring opioid, all opioids are highly addictive, especially when abused. From 2020 to 2021, every county in Florida saw an increase in opioid overdoses.

According to WFLA, opioid overdose deaths in the state were up 42% during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic–an increase that is substantially higher than the national average. In 2020, 14,708 Floridians died of a drug overdose. The majority of these overdoses are attributed to opioid drugs.[5]

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Opioid Addiction

America’s opioid crisis has led to an increase in demand for effective treatment. Unfortunately, relapse is a common part of recovery for many people, and recovery from opioid addiction can be particularly challenging. The good news is the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three medications (buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone) for the treatment of opioid use disorder.

These medications can be combined with a comprehensive treatment program to provide a highly individualized and effective approach to recovery. Programs that use this approach are called “medication-assisted treatment” or “MAT.”

MAT can help patients manage their withdrawal symptoms, cope with cravings, and learn the life skills needed to maintain sobriety. MAT is thought to provide a more individualized and “whole-person” approach compared to traditional behavioral treatment programs.[6]

Find Help for Yourself or a Loved One

Whether you or a loved one have been abusing opiates or synthetic opioids, there is no better time to get help. Here at Suboxone Treatment Clinic, we can connect you with medication-assisted treatment programs for opioid use disorder in your area. Don’t wait any longer. Call now to speak with a trusted addiction specialist.


  1. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/drug-overdose-deaths-hit-record-high/
  2. https://www.dea.gov/resources/facts-about-fentanyl
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/terms.html
  4. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/141189NCJRS.pdf
  5. https://www.wfla.com/news/florida/florida-opioid-deaths-up-42-during-1st-year-of-covid-19-pandemic/
  6. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment