What are opiates and opioids?

MastHead Outline
September 7, 2021

Opiates are a group of drugs that have analgesic properties used to treating pain. Opiates fall under a more inclusive class of substances called opioids. The difference is that opiates are derived from the opium plant, while the term opioid also includes synthetic substances that mimic the effects of opiates but are created in a lab. Simply Put: all opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates. Sometimes these drugs are also referred to as narcotics. 

Some examples of opiate drugs are morphine, codeine, and the illicit substance heroin. Opioids also include semi and fully synthetic drugs such as oxymorphone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and many more. 

Below are some of the most commonly used opioids, showing both their brand and generic names. They are listed in order of increasing strength:

• Codeine®

• Vicodin ®, Hycodan ® (generic: hydrocodone)

• MS Contin Kadian ® (generic: morphine)

• OxyContin®, Percocet ® (generic: oxycodone)

• Dilaudid® (generic: hydromorphone)

• Duragesic® (generic: fentanyl)

• Zohydro®

• Heroin (illegal street drug)

While many of these substances were created for medicinal use, prescription and illicit opioids are highly addictive and, with prolonged misuse, can rewire the brain’s opioid receptors leading to opioid use disorder.