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Opioid vs Opiate - What's the difference between them?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Pope, BPharm. Last updated on July 15, 2022.

Official answer


The difference between opioid and opiate is that opioid is a broad term used to describe any type of substance, either natural or man-made (synthetic) that binds to opioid receptors in the brain (these control pain, pleasurable, and addictive behaviors). Opioids include natural substances, such as codeine, morphine, and heroin; synthetic substances such as fentanyl and methadone; and semi-synthetic substances such as hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (Oxycontin).

The word opiate refers to natural substances that can be extracted from the flowering opium poppy plant, such as heroin, morphine, and codeine. All opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates. It is also important to note that just because opiates are natural, this does not mean that they are less harmful. Opiates are also highly addictive and are frequently misused.

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