The Different Types Of Opioids

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on

Opioids is a term for a general class of drugs that have depressant effects on the central nervous system. Types of opioids include prescription opioids, synthetic opioids, and natural opioids.

The Different Types Of Opioids

The term opioids is a broad term that classifies a group of drugs that are known to relieve pain and create euphoria.

They were originally produced and used medicinally as a treatment for moderate to severe pain, but are often misused and abused because of their addictive nature.

Most opioids still have medical uses today, and there are currently many different types available depending on what an individual needs.

Illicit (Illegal) Opioids

Illicit or illegal opioids are any opioid which the possession or sale of would result in criminal charges. It is important to note that even prescription opioids are illegal when found in the wrong hands.

Most opioids have legal purposes and can be prescribed medically, though it is illegal for anyone not in possession of a prescription to be using them.

One opioid that is illegal 100% of the time in the U.S. no matter who is using it is heroin.

Illegal opioids possess an added danger any time someone purchases them.

Oftentimes, they may contain dangerous fillers or will be much more potent than legally produced opioids. With street opioids, you never know exactly what you are getting.

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Prescription Opioids

Prescription opioids are those which are legally prescribed or administered by a medical doctor. They are generally prescribed for moderate to severe pain — the kind of pain that results from a major injury or surgery.

It is always important to remember that just because a medication has been medically prescribed does not necessarily make it safe.

Prescriptions tend to be limited to short periods of time and only given out when there are no other options.

Examples of prescription opioids include:

Over-The-Counter (OTC) Opioids

Over-the-counter (OTC) opioids are those opioids which are available to the general public without a prescription.

They can be used on more mild or temporary conditions and their availability tends to vary by location. To be available over-the-counter, a medication must contain a very low dose of the active opioid ingredient and contain at least two other medicinal ingredients.

Most commonly, you may see cough syrups that contain a low dose of codeine along with other ingredients.

Even opioids that are sold over-the-counter have a high potential for abuse. Additionally, these drugs are often not available directly from the shelf.

Depending on location, you may need to provide ID or speak with a pharmacist in order to purchase one of these.

Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioids are man-made opioids that are produced entirely in a lab.

You can also find semi-synthetic opioids, which are a combination of the natural poppy plant compounds and synthetic compounds.

Most synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids were originally designed to have medicinal painkilling properties.

However, even man-made opioids produce high amounts of the side effect of euphoria, making them some of the most addictive drugs available today.

Examples of synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids include:

Natural Opioids

Natural opioids also referred to as opiates, are any type of opioid that occurs naturally from compounds found in the poppy plant. They can be made into various forms but are generally considered “pure”.

The opium poppy plant that is required to harvest natural opioids is native to western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. Different parts of the plant are then harvested to create the different natural opioids.

Examples of natural opioids include:

Endogenous Opioids

Endogenous opioids are opioids which occur naturally inside of the human body.

These opioids and their receptors are mostly found in the brain systems that involve pain regulation, emotion, stress responses, motivation, and drug addiction.

The most familiar type of endogenous opioid is endorphins. These are chemicals which are produced in the body to combat pain and stress similar to the way opioids do.

They are also released during other pleasurable activities such as eating, sex, and exercise.

Benefits of endogenous opioids include:

  • alleviate depression
  • reduce stress and anxiety
  • boost your self-esteem
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • reduce pain during childbirth

Short-Acting Opioid Prescriptions

Short-acting opioids are those which are generally prescribed for people whose pain tends to come and go and are meant to be taken as needed.

They typically start working very quickly but their pain-relief effects only last a few hours.

Research has shown that most patients being treated with opioid therapy tend to prefer the short-acting opioids.

Unfortunately, it is very easy to build up a tolerance to these and soon require larger and more frequent doses to get the desired effects.

Examples of short-acting opioids include:

Long-Acting Opioid Prescriptions

Long-acting opioids are those which are generally prescribed for around-the-clock treatment instead of for as-needed. They typically take longer to start working but their pain-relief effects last much longer.

Someone with chronic pain, or pain that has lasted for longer than three months, will most likely be prescribed a long-acting opioid, though they may prefer a short-acting one.

Opioid therapy is currently considered the standard treatment for chronic pain associated with cancer.

Examples of long-acting opioids include:

  • OxyContin
  • methadone
  • fentanyl-transdermal patch

Finding Treatment For An Opioid Addiction

Opioid addictions can be some of the most difficult substance use disorders to overcome, but recovery is possible. If you or a loved one is currently struggling, please do not hesitate to give our helpline a call.

We work with individuals to create specialized treatment plans that are specific to their needs. Give us a call and you can get started today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on
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