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NIDA. (2014, July 16). Real Teens Ask: What Are the Different Types of Opioids?. Retrieved from

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Sara Bellum
July 16 2014
Opium poppies

Learn more about the different types of opioids in this updated post from 2013.

During the 2013 Drug Facts Chat Day, teens from across the country submitted their questions about drug abuse to NIDA scientists. A teen from Walter Johnson High School in Maryland asked:

“What types of opioids are there?”

Opioids are psychoactive chemicals that occur naturally (in the resin of the poppy plant) or can be made in a laboratory. They work by binding to opioid receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract.

There are illegal opioids (like heroin) as well as legal opioids that are prescribed for pain relief (like hydrocodone, which has the brand name of Vicodin). In fact, there is a dangerous trend where people that have become addicted to prescription opioids begin using heroin because it’s cheaper to get.

There are 3 main types of opioids:

  1. Natural opiates are alkaloids, nitrogen-containing base chemical compounds that occur in plants such as the opium poppy. Natural opiates include morphine, codeine, and thebaine.
  2. Semi-synthetic/manmade opioids are created in labs from natural opiates. Semi-synthetic opioids include hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and oxycodone (the prescription drug OxyContin), as well as heroin, which is made from morphine.
  3. Fully synthetic/manmade opioids are completely manmade, including fentanyl, pethidine, levorphanol, methadone, tramadol, and dextropropoxyphene.

Prescription opioids (e.g., morphine, codeine, OxyContin) are prescribed by doctors to treat pain and provide millions of people with much needed relief when used as prescribed. However, opioids can produce a “high,” so some people abuse them. This has led to thousands of overdose deaths. In 2008, prescription opioids were responsible for 14,800 overdose deaths and in 2009, for more than 475,000 emergency room visits.

Do you have other questions about types of drugs? Tell us in comments.

Update: What does it mean to “misuse” opioids? Find out here.

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