Opioid vs. Opiate: The Difference (and Why It Matters)

man with opioids, contemplating if he should take them

Opioids and opiates are both highly addictive and it is helpful to understand what they are. Deaths in the United States from drug overdose, involving opioids, have significantly increased in recent years.

The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) reported that from March 2020 to March 2021 there were 96,779 drug overdose deaths. NCDAS goes on to report that in 7 out of 10 drug overdose deaths, opioids are a factor. As the opioid epidemic sweeps across America, being educated on what opioids and opiates are becomes increasingly important.

What is the Difference Between Opioid vs. Opiate?

Opioids are any substances that interact with opioid receptors in your brain to produce pleasurable feelings, relieve pain, or act as sedatives. They can come directly from natural opioid sources like opium poppy plants and opioid drugs, but they can also be synthetic opioid derivatives or opioid analogs.


The term “opioid” can be used to refer to both the natural and synthetic forms of substances that mimic or contain the natural effects of opium. Some Opioids are fully synthetic, while others are only partially synthetic — meaning they still contain natural opium.


Opiates are drugs that contain active components naturally derived from opium. Common opiates include morphine and codeine, both of which are directly made from the opium found in poppy plants.

The opioid/opiate distinction is important because it helps us better understand opioid addiction—and opioid arrest. Opiates are the specific type of opioid that opiate users abuse because they are known to produce a sense of euphoria in addition to pain relief. They also come with comparatively high chances of tolerance and addiction.

How do Opioids and Opiates Affect Your Body?

Opioid/opiate abuse impacts opioid receptors throughout the body. The opioid receptor is a protein that exists in your brain, spinal cord, digestive system, and other opioid sensitive cells.

When opioid drugs or endogenous opioids interact with these opioid receptors, they can produce pleasurable opioid effects. Opioids produce many opioid effects in your body such as:

  • reduced pain
  • lethargy
  • nausea inhibition
  • opioid euphoria
  • opioid addiction
  • opioid tolerance.

The Opioid Crisis

We hear a lot of talk going on about the growing number of addicts and overdose cases but most of us know very little, if anything at all, about opioids, addiction, and the crisis.

That needs to change and that is why it has become our mission as a team of opioid lawyers at Napoli Shkolnik to raise awareness and help end the opioid crisis.

If you or your community have been a victim of the opioid crisis, contact Napoli Shkolnik today for a free case evaluation and discuss how our team of lawyers can help hold the manufacturers and distributors accountable.