What is an Opioid?

How to Spot an Opioid

It can sometimes be confusing to know “What is an opioid?” This is because there are different types of opioids. Therefore, they behave in slightly different ways. Sometimes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will even change the classification of a drug. It may call a drug an opioid at first and later change it’s category. However, most have some clear characteristics. Once you understand these, knowing which drugs are opioids becomes much easier.

Check with the Government

The simplest way to decide what class a drug is in is to check with the FDA. Doing a quick search on the FDA’s website for the drug’s name will typically reveal the classification of the drug. If the FDA says it’s an opioid, then it is.

The other way to determine if a drug is an opioid is to see if the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) thinks it is a controlled substance. The DEA lists all opioids as controlled substances.

How Opioids Work

The other way to know what category a drug is in, is to understand how it works. Here are the basic indicators of an opioid:

  • Attaches to opioid receptors in the central nervous system.
  • Provides feelings of happiness when taken.
  • Reduces feelings of pain by blocking pain receptors.
  • Slows breathing.
  • Decreases digestion.

These are important to note because they show how opioids are different from other painkillers. Most painkillers do not operate on the central nervous system. They work at the site of the pain. This is why there is less abuse potential with other pain relieving drugs. Because they don’t work directly on the brain, there’s less potential for abuse. They also don’t provide the same feelings of joy that come from opioids.

Because opioids work on the central nervous system and provide extreme happiness, they are highly addictive. Therefore, it is important to know what is an opioid before taking it. Using an ordinary prescription can quickly lead to addiction, which is known as Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).

Understanding Opioids and Opiates

There is a final way to find out if a drug is an opioid. That is by understanding where it comes from. There are actually three classes of opioid. These are: opiates, partially synthetic opioids, and fully synthetic opioids. Each one is slightly different. However, they are all opioids.


Opiates are made by using chemicals that come directly from poppy plants. This list includes:

  • Opium
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Heroin

All of these are both opiates and opioids. But, not all opioids are opiates. That’s because people create most opioids in a laboratory. These lab-made opioids are the synthetic types. Needless to say, all of these drugs are highly addictive. However, it’s important not to lose hope. Help is available for everything from heroin addiction to prescription pain pill dependence. With the right help, even someone who has relied on any form opiate or opioid can turn their life around.

Partially Synthetic Opioids

Opiates come directly from chemicals found in poppy plants. Partially synthetic ones do not. Instead, they use some parts of the chemicals from poppy plants. These chemicals can then be combined with synthetic chemicals to make a different drug. They are partially human-made and partially natural. Here’s some of the most common partially synthetic opioids:

  • Buprenorphine – Found in Subutex
  • Hydrocodone – Found in Vicodin
  • Hydromorphone – Found in Dilaudid
  • Oxycodone – Found in Oxycontin and Percocet
  • Oxymorphone – Found in Opana

Beyond the partially synthetic opioids are the fully synthetic opioids. These are entirely made in a lab.

Fully Synthetic Opioids

Fully synthetic opioids have nothing to do with poppy plants. Because they are wholly made by human beings, they are synthetic and not natural. However, they are still opioids because of how they interact with the body. That is to say they attach directly to the central nervous system.

The best known synthetic opioids are:

  • Fentanyl
  • Demerol
  • Methadone
  • Tramadol

This should let you know what type of drug is Tramadol. Tramadol was originally not an opioid. But the FDA changed its definition. It is a fully synthetic opioid. As with the partially synthetic opioids, these won’t always appear under their own name. However, these are more commonly used by their name than hidden behind a brand name.

Getting Help with Opioids

If you’ve become addicted to any of the drugs listed above, you’re likely going to need help to quit. Addiction to opioids can be deadly. Therefore, anyone seeking opioid addiction treatment in NJ should reach out to us immediately. Our staff is trained to help manage OUD. Because we have years of experience in handling addiction, we’re uniquely qualified to provide you with the best possible care.

We create treatment programs to fit every person and each lifestyle. We treat the person’s body, mind and spirit to help them fully recover. To begin with, we help find medications to ease the transition away from opioid use. Don’t lose another day of your life. Call us today and let us help you on the path to recovery.