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Opiates vs. Opioids: The Differences and Why They Matter

opiates versus opioidsOver the last 20 years, the opioid crisis in the United States has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and devastated the families of countless others. The drugs are highly addictive, and are frequently over-prescribed by physicians for everything from hernias to the pain women face after C-sections.

Some of the finer details involved in the epidemic are getting lost due to the drugs’ phonetic and alphabetic similarity to a cousin of theirs: opiates. The Recovery Centers for America emphasize the differences between opiates and opioids on their website because the terms are used interchangeably on a frequent basis, yet there are differences which are important to acknowledge when it comes to treatment for addiction.

Opiates are derived directly from the poppy plant. They’re considered natural products because their active ingredients are found in nature. Examples include opium, morphine, and codeine. Opioids, however, are at least partially synthetic given that their active ingredients are manufactured, or not found in nature. More common examples of opioids are oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl.

Opiates and opioids are considered an overall pain management win by medical professionals because of how powerful and fast-acting they are. Unfortunately, those characteristics are also what make them highly addictive and the cause of thousands of painkiller overdoses every year. This has led some physicians in certain communities to seek out pain management alternatives that still help patients but don’t come with the associated risks of addiction and/or overdose.

Meanwhile, as the agency primarily in charge of ensuring the public’s safety via the foods we eat and medications we allow into our homes, the FDA has made seemingly sparse efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. The federal government has also proposed legislation that essentially ignores those who are already addicted to opioids and opiates, and are therefore most vulnerable, leaving them to endure the arduous road to recovery alone.

The crisis has reached such a fever pitch that plaintiffs in 66 related lawsuits across multiple cities, counties, and states are seeking to consolidate their cases into a single multi-district litigation. This would allow the judge in one case to make a ruling that could effectively and efficiently be applied to the others.

An official judicial panel is yet to decide if the cases will be consolidated, with a decision scheduled for later this month. However, leaders at local and state levels are showing they won’t wait for ineffective and inactive federal legislators and agencies. As such, these local leaders may prove to be the general public’s biggest hope for protection from an opioid and opiate industry that is seemingly running circles around the very regulators that are supposed to be keeping it under control.