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Opiates vs Opioids. Are they the same?

By Bill Nee, VP Sales/Marketing uVera Diagnostics

Opiates vs Opioids — is there a difference? There is an opioid crisis going on in this country. Or is it an opiate crisis? Or is it both?

There are lots of confusing things about these words that seem to be used to mean the same thing. But are they the same or are they different drugs? Well, it depends on the exact drug.

Define the Differences Between Opiates vs Opioids

Opiates come from natural substances and are derived from the poppy plant. For thousands of years, parts of the poppy seed have been dried to make opium. Even back then, the poppy plant was known to treat illnesses, induce sleep and improve well being. There is also a “high” that comes with taking the drug. In fact, both morphine and codeine are opiates.

Opioids are synthetic drugs, created with chemical compounds produced in a laboratory. They work by binding to the same receptors as opiates. Similarly, these receptors are parts of the brain responsible for reward, controlling pain and addictive behaviors.

Today, you hear the word opioid being used for both opiates and opioids whether the drug is natural or synthetic. It is important to know that all opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates.

Bottom line? They are both addictive, even when prescribed by a doctor.

Because Opiates are natural and come from the poppy plant some people believe that they are “better for you.” Others might say that taking opioids can’t be addictive because they were “prescribed by a doctor and given to me by a pharmacist.” Both of these kinds of medicines are extremely addictive and can cause your body and brain to need more and more to achieve the same effects. Addiction also means that if you stop taking them, your mind and body will go through withdrawals and struggle through physical symptoms because it craves the medicine. One clear sign of addiction is not being able to stop using the substance. It is also not being able to stop yourself from using more than the recommended amount.

With all of these addictive properties, why would a doctor prescribe them?

Because they are powerful pain relievers. We know that the drug binds to the pain receptors in your brain, and they lower the effects of pain on your body. In addition, it does that by interfering with the ability for your body to send pain signals to your brain. For instance, doctors most often prescribe Opioids or Opiates to relieve the pain from:

    • Toothaches and dental procedures
    • Injuries
    • Surgeries
    • Chronic conditions like cancer
    • To relieve strong cough symptoms

They are usually safe when you use them correctly. The problems happen when you take them in quantities not prescribed by the doctor, or you take it more often then prescribed. Prescribed Opioids and Opiates are also at risk for theft by a friend or family member. It’s important to note that even if someone is using Opiates and Opioids correctly as prescribed by their doctor, they can still be a danger at work. Read more on our blog, Opioid Epidemic Puts Your Business at Risk — But You Can Help End the Crisis

A girl wearing black in the corner covering her ears on the blog Opiates vs Opioids. Are they the same?

Which Drugs are Opiates vs Opioids?


The most common alkaloid that naturally occurs in the opium poppy is morphine. For instance, some examples of opiates include heroin, morphine, and codeine.


These can be completely synthetic, man-made or semi-synthetic opioids (made with some natural components of the poppy plant).

Opioids include:

Fentanyl, Butorphanol, Meperidine (Demerol), Diphenoxylate, Methadone, Propoxyphene, Pentazocine, Oxycodone (Oxycontin), Nalbuphine, Hydromorphone, Buprenorphine, Hydrocodone (Vicodin is the combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen), Nalbuphine, and Oxymorphone.

Remember, all opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates.

What are there differences in the strengths of opioids vs opiates?

There are differences in the strengths of each of these medicines. The most important thing to remember is that when they are prescribed for you, you need to follow the instructions and take them responsibly. Be aware of the signs of abuse and addiction and take these things seriously. Why? Because the earlier you can deal with the issue, the easier it will be to help you with the addiction. Opioids and opiates are both serious medicine and the terms have come to be almost interchangeable. All opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates. The crisis of these medications will continue to escalate unless you take the time and responsibility to talk with your doctor about the necessity of using them and how to use them safely.

Are Opioid/Opiate Drugs Legal or Illegal?

Demerol, Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet are legal to possess with a prescription from a doctor and taken by the actual patient. In addition, morphine is legal when administered by a medical professional. However, heroin is always illegal.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Opiate and Opioid Abuse and Addiction?

The effects of the drugs on your system can be dangerous and severe, leading to injury or death or endangering the people around you. This includes taking the drug as prescribed by your doctor. For example, signs and symptoms include:

  • Poor coordination
  • Drowsiness
  • Shallow or slow breathing rate
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Physical agitation
  • Poor decision making
  • Abandoning responsibilities
  • Slurred speech
  • Sleeping more or less than normal
  • Mood swings
  • Euphoria (feeling high)
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Lowered motivation
  • Anxiety attacks

Imagine someone with these symptoms showing up to work? This puts your employees, business and sometimes customers at risk.

Want more information? You may find the following articles helpful.

uVera Diagnostics has a variety of FDA 510(k) cleared and CLIA waived test kits.

These are affordable, convenient, simple to administer, 99 percent accurate, and fast in providing results.

Set to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) cut-off levels, our urine drug test kits are used by businesses, organizations and agencies in a wide range of industries from staffing to medical to criminal justice to construction and more. We make it easy for you to search for information and drug tests by type of drug tested too. This includes drug descriptions, street names, what the drugs look like, the dangers and side effects, links to the drug tests for each drug, etc.

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About Bill Nee, VP Sales/Marketing uVera Diagnostics and Co-designer and Developer of the CR3 split-sample drug test cup.

Bill has 27 years in sales management and marketing. In addition, he is a 12-year veteran of the drug testing industry. As a parent and co-worker, Bill’s focuses his energy on drug testing at every level. Addiction is all around us in alcohol, prescriptions, and street drugs, and that is a constant reminder a drug-free society starts with each and every one of us.

For more information on drug testing, call 1-866-242-5930.




This information is meant for awareness and education purposes only. In addition, any medical or life-saving advice should come from experts. Always consult with your physician about any and all drugs. In conclusion, if it is an emergency, dial 911 or call emergency services.

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