Painkillers: The Difference Between Opiates And Opioids

PainOne of the most frequent reasons people visit their family doctor is to get relief from pain. If an over-the-counter pain reliever isn’t working to their satisfaction, the doctor can prescribe a stronger pain medication. Unfortunately, when it’s not taken according to the doctor’s instructions, or it’s used for an extended period of time, this stronger drug can lead to addiction.

A study released earlier in 2016 revealed that almost half of all Americans personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription meds – opiates or opioids. As a pain management specialist, I’ve found that many people aren’t clear on the difference between these two types of drugs. So, for your information, whether you someday need to discuss them with a health care professional, family member or friend, here’s a brief overview.

Opiates – A Natural Pain Medication

Opiates are derived from the opium poppy. Opium is a strong pain-relieving medication used in different opiates:

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Heroin
  • Opium

Opioids – Synthetic Pain Remedy

Opioids are synthetic or partly-synthetic drugs that are manufactured to work in a similar way to opiates:

  • Methadone
  • Percocet, Percodan, OxyContin (oxycodone)
  • Vicodin, Lorcet, Lortab (hydrocodone)
  • Demerol (pethidine)
  • Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
  • Duragesic (fentanyl)

How Opiates And Opioids Work

Both types of painkillers don’t actually “kill” the pain – they alter the way the pain is perceived. They attach onto opioid receptors in the brain, which send inaccurate measures of the severity of the pain that the person is experiencing. So, it actually feels like less pain than it would if the brain wasn’t being tricked.

(These powerful drugs are popular for another reason too: People who are not in pain take them because they affect how the brain perceives pleasure. They provide a feeling of elation, followed by deep relaxation and/or sleepiness.)

Addiction To Opiates And Opioids

When people use opiates and opioids to treat pain as directed and for a short time, they are less likely to become addicted. Addiction occurs when patients develop a tolerance for the level of medication they have been described and no longer get the same level of relief. So they take more and more. And they just can’t stop without help.

Before It’s Too Late

If you’re at a point where an over-the-counter or prescription pain medication is not working for you – or you’re getting concerned about how much you’re taking, please contact New Jersey Pain Care Specialists for a consultation with one of our elite pain management doctors. We offer a variety of interventional and minimally-invasive procedures – including Stem Cell Therapy and Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) – that can help relieve your pain without dangerous drugs, surgery and a lengthy recovery.