Is Heroin An Opiate? - Things You Should Know - The Discovery House Los Angeles CA

Is Heroin An Opiate?

People tend to lump all illegal or addictive drugs together and it can be hard to know what all the different names mean. You’ve no doubt heard about heroin and you’ve certainly heard that there’s an opiate epidemic in the United States. However, you may have questions such as “what is an opiate?”, “what is an opioid?” or “is heroin an opiate?”. We’ll answer all those questions and more in this article. 

The Difference Between Opiates and Opioids

Many people use the terms opiate and opioid interchangeably when talking about highly addictive prescription drugs or illegal substances. However, they are not the same thing.

In the medical community, opiates are naturally created by the poppy plant. Opium, codeine, and morphine are well-known opiates. They are made directly from poppy plants.

So, what is an opioid? Opioids are substances that are either partly synthetic or completely synthetic. The active ingredients are created through a chemical process. Common opioids are fentanyl, OxyContin, and hydrocodone.

Since opioids and opiates have similar molecules, they affect the human brain in similar ways. Both bind to the opioid receptors in the brain which house naturally-produced endorphins.

These endorphins boost feelings of pleasure while also blocking pain signals. When opiates and opioids attach themselves to the opioid receptors, they also block pain and create feelings of euphoria. 

The Difference Between Opiates and Opioids

Is Heroin an Opiate or Opioid?

To determine whether heroin is an opiate or an opioid, we need to look at how it is made. Heroin is derived from morphine, an opiate which originates from the seeds of the poppy plant.

You may assume that since heroin is made from morphine, it can be classified as an opiate. However, it’s not that simple.

Most heroin is made in Asia and Latin America which are home to opium poppies. The morphine is extracted from the gum of the plant and then converted into heroin. Both processes are done in labs.

Since heroin is made from morphine that has been chemically processed, where does that leave us? Some sources said heroin is an opiate while others say it is an opioid because it is semi-synthetic. 

It is also important to note that when the average person refers to ”heroin”, they may be referring to a synthetic, semi-synthetic, or natural compound. Some people also use the term “synthetic heroin” when referring to drugs like OxyContin.

This can be confusing. However, whether you consider heroin to be an opiate or an opioid, it’s important to note that it is very dangerous. Under federal laws, it is considered a Schedule 1 narcotic, meaning it has no accepted medicinal use and it has a high potential for abuse. 

Heroin may be a white powder, a brown powder, or a dark, sticky substance known as black tar heroin. It can be smoked, injected, or snorted. In addition to a rush of euphoria, short term effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Constricted pupils
  • Respiratory depression
  • Dry mouth

There’s also the risk of overdose. With regular or long-term use, a number of physical and mental problems can occur.

What’s the Link Between Fentanyl and Heroin?

Fentanyl is an opioid that’s cheaper and easier to obtain than heroin. Therefore, it is often added to pure heroin as a filler. Some people think they’re buying pure heroin but instead, they’re getting heroin cut with fentanyl and other substances.

Fentanyl is a synthetic drug with a chemical composition that is only slightly different from that of heroin. On the addictive scale of opiates, it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Fentanyl was created as a potent pain reliever and it is still used to treat severe or chronic pain. However, it still has a very high potential for abuse. Because fentanyl is so powerful, it can easily lead to overdose. A person who is overdosing on heroin, fentanyl, or another opioid may experience:

  • A drop in body temperature
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed pulse
  • Blue fingernails
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Lethargy 
  • Loss of consciousness

How Addictive is Heroin?

Heroin addiction can occur after just a few uses. Anyone who takes opioids can become addicted including those who use prescription medicines to control their pain. Still, repeated or long-term use of heroin or other opioids significantly increases the risk of developing an opioid use disorder. 

How Addiction Occurs 

How Addiction Occurs

Some people start using heroin recreationally and subsequently become hooked. However, many people who go on to abuse heroin do so after becoming addicted to prescription drugs.

At first, the drug provides relief from pain and creates a temporary sense of wellbeing.  However, over time, the body slows down its production of natural endorphins and starts to rely on the endorphins produced by the drug. 

When the individual’s body gets used to their usual dose of heroin and doesn’t respond in the same way, this is called tolerance. The individual may start using more and more drugs to get the desired effects.

Eventually, some individuals start to feel like they can’t function without opioids. This is a characteristic of addiction, and it can drive a person to seek out some type of opiate or opioid at any cost. 

Opioids activate the brain’s reward center. That is why they are so highly addictive. A person who is addicted to heroin will experience irresistible cravings. They will continue to seek out and use the drug even those they experience negative side effects. 

Since every medical professional is aware of the dangers posed by opioids, it’s often difficult for patients to ask for a larger dose or get their prescriptions repeated.

Many turn to heroin, especially black tar heroin which is cheaper and more readily available. Unfortunately, some illegally obtained drugs are laced with contaminants or other harmful drugs which increases the risk of a deadly overdose.

Risk Factors for Opioid Addiction

You probably know someone or even multiple people who used a short course of opioids for pain relief and experienced no negative consequences.

However, there are certain factors that make addiction more likely. One of them is using a prescription opioid in a way that’s different from what was prescribed.

 Some people who are given pills crush them and then snort the powder or mix the powder with liquid and inject it. This is dangerous for several reasons.

First, it can lead to accidental overdose, especially if the pill was an extended-release formulation. Sending all the medicine into the bloodstream in one go can be deadly.

Some people also take more pills than prescribed or take the prescribed number of pills more frequently than instructed. This can increase the risk of addiction.

The length of time that an individual uses opioids is also a contributing factor. Taking prescription opioids for more than a few days makes it more likely that you’ll continue to use them in the long term.

After just five days of use, the odds increase that you’ll still be on opioids a year later. Long-term use increases the risk of addiction.

Other Factors

There are also environmental, genetic, and psychological factors that can increase the risk of addiction include:

  • A family history of substance abuse
  • A personal history of substance abuse
  • The age of first use (younger people are more vulnerable)
  • A history of driving under the influence and other criminal or legal issues
  • Poverty 
  • Unemployment
  • A tendency to engage in risky behavior
  • Prior drug or alcohol rehab
  • Stressful situations

Women are also at an increased risk of developing an opioid addiction. This is partly because they are more likely to have chronic pain than men. Doctors are also more likely to prescribe opioids for women, give them higher doses, and prescribe opioids for longer periods. Women may also be biologically predisposed to opioid dependence.

Common Opiate Treatment Methods

A person who is addicted to heroin will need to go through a detoxification process before entering rehab. Medical detoxification is the safest option since the individual will have round-the-clock access to highly trained professionals who will keep them safe and as comfortable as possible. 

During detox, people experience cravings and a range of uncomfortable symptoms. Without the right medical and psychological support, they may not be able to complete the process.

If necessary, medications such as buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone can be administered to control withdrawal symptoms, limit cravings, and prevent relapse.

Detox is just the beginning and it is not enough to ensure sobriety. Instead, it prepares the individual to learn how to live a drug-free life. Inpatient rehab offers the best chance of success and it includes counseling and various types of therapy.

While in rehab, individuals work to identify the root cause of their addiction and learn how to cope with cravings and triggers.

Steps to Preventing Opioid Addiction

While anyone can develop an addiction to heroin or another opioid, there are ways to prevent addiction from occurring. Ideally, opioids should only be used for three days or fewer following surgery or a severe injury.

If you need to use them for a longer period, your doctor should prescribe the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible period and you should follow their instructions to the letter.

If you think you’ve become dependent on opioids or your use has become problematic, talk to your doctor. If you’re still in pain, your doctor can help you to find a safer alternative to opioids. They may prescribe less addictive medicines or recommend drug-free treatments. 

You should never stop taking your medication without seeking medical assistance. If you abruptly stop using fentanyl, Vicodin, morphine, or Percocet, you can experience severe symptoms including lots of pain. If you see a doctor, they’ll help you to taper off your usage in a slow, safe manner.

If you’re using illicit opioids sourced from the street, you can also talk to your personal physician about what your next steps should be. Alternatively, you can contact an addiction treatment facility directly for assessment and professional guidance.

If you are using prescription opioids, you have a responsibility to not just monitor your usage but protect other people who live in or visit your home.

Store your medications in a safe location and dispose of any unused portions correctly so that no one else gets hold of them. There may be a medication take-back program in your area which you can use.

Steps to Preventing Opioid Addiction

Contact The Discovery House Today for Help!

Now that you have the answer to a variety of questions including “is heroin an opiate”, you may be realizing just how dangerous this drug is.

If you or someone you love is abusing heroin, you need to get professional help at the earliest opportunity. Heroin use and abuse put individuals at risk of overdose, addiction, and even death.

The Discovery House is the leading rehab facility in Los Angeles. Our luxurious center caters to patients from the Ventura, Westlake, Thousand Oaks, Santa Monica, and Woodland Hills communities as well as from across the country.

We offer a full continuum of care ranging from detox to aftercare support. Throughout the entire process, we cater to everyone’s unique mental, emotional, social, and behavioral needs. Among the treatments we offer are cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, music therapy, and yoga.

Every person who enters our facility is treated as an individual with unique requirements and goals. With our 3:1 client to counselor ratio, each client gets the personalized care they deserve.

If they have co-occurring mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, or a personality disorder, we also provide treatment for these.

We know that paying for rehab is a concern for many people. However, we accept many types of insurance including:

  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield
  • United Healthcare
  • ValueOptions Behavioral Health Care
  • United Healthcare
  • Aetna Health Insurance
  • Assurant Health
  • Humana
  • Cigna Health Insurance
  • Healthnet


Contact us today to learn more about the opiate treatment methods we offer and how you or your loved one can enter our facility.