Opioids are the leading cause of death due to overdose. They bind to the mu receptor in the brain, releasing endorphins and dopamine which results in a strong sensation of euphoria and pain relief. Natural opiates, semi-synthetic/humanmade opioids and fully synthetic/humanmade opioids are the three main types of opioids used for pain relief in America. These include morphine, codeine, heroin, oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, buprenorphine, methadone and fentanyl. However, if taken in large amounts acetaminophen can have a damaging effect on one’s liver and may even result in complete liver failure.

Today opiates and opioids are one of the leading causes of deaths resulting from overdose. The term opiates and opioids are often used interchangeably; however, opiates are naturally derived prescription pain medications, whereas opioids are semi-synthetic or synthetic drugs manufactured in a lab that resemble their natural opiate counterparts. Whether it is a usually derived opioid or a synthetic opiate made in a laboratory, this class of addictive euphoric poppy-derived drugs binds to the mu receptor in the brain and release endorphins and dopamine, which results in a strong sense of euphoria and pain relief. Many different types of opioids differ in their strength, usage, and half-life.

Three classifications of the different types of opioids

  • 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 (paramorphine).
  • Semi-synthetic/humanmade opioids are created in labs from natural opiates. Semi-synthetic opioids include hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Semi-synthetic opioids also include the illegal Schedule I drug, heroin, which is made from morphine.
  • Fully synthetic/humanmade opioids such as fentanyl, pethidine, levorphanol, methadone, tramadol, and dextropropoxyphene are devoid of natural opiates.

List of commonly abused opioids

The following includes the most abused opioids used for pain relief in the United States:

  • Morphine (naturally occurring opioid)
  • Codeine (naturally occurring opioid)
  • Heroin (semi-synthetic opioid)
  • Oxycodone (semi-synthetic opioid)
  • Oxymorphone (semi-synthetic opioid)
  • Hydrocodone (semi-synthetic opioid)
  • Buprenorphine (synthetic opioid)
  • Methadone (synthetic opioid)
  • Fentanyl (synthetic opioid)

Oxycodone and hydrocodone

Oxycodone and hydrocodone are semi-synthetic opioids that are commonly combined with acetaminophen and prescribed in pill form for severe post-surgical pain or cancer-related pain. According to studies, hydrocodone/acetaminophen, commonly known as Vicodin, Norco or Lortab, had approximately 123.3 million prescriptions in 2014. Medications containing oxycodone (OxyContin) are not far behind this vast statistic. Oxycodone is commonly combined with acetaminophen under the name brand Percocet. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol, and although it is used as a fever reducer and a pain reliever, it is not a narcotic. However, it is used commonly in combination with narcotics as an adjunctive pain reliever. When taken in large amounts, acetaminophen can have harmful effects on the liver resulting in liver failure.