The main difference is in how opiates and opioids are made.
Opiates are chemical compounds that are extracted or refined from natural plant matter (poppy sap and fibers). Examples of opiates:
Opioids are chemical compounds that generally are not derived from natural plant matter. Most opioids are “made in the lab” or “synthesized.”
Though a few opioid molecules — hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), hydromorphone (e.g., Dilaudid), oxycodone (e.g., Oxycontin, Percocet) — may be partially synthesized from chemical components of opium, other popularly-used opioid molecules are designed and manufactured in laboratories. (The phrase “synthetic opioid” is considered redundant; nearly all opioids are synthesized.)
The pharmaceutical industry has created more than 500 different opioid molecules. Some are widely used medically, some are not. Examples of well-known opioids used medically in the U.S.
- Dextromethorphan (available in the U.S. without prescription as, e.g., NyQuil, Robitussin, TheraFlu, Vicks)
- Dextropropoxyphene (e.g., Darvocet-N, Darvon)
- Loperamide (e.g., Imodium)
- Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin)
- Oxycodone (e.g., Oxycontin, Percocet)
- Oxymorphone (e.g., Opana)
- Meperidine (e.g., Demerol)
- Methadone (e.g., Dolophine)
- Fentanyl/fentanil (e.g., Ultiva, Sublimaze, Duragesic patch)
- Carfentanyl/carfentanil (e.g., Wildnil, for veterinary use)