What Are Synthetic Opioids?

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Synthetic opioids are narcotics that are chemically engineered in laboratories to mimic the effects of natural opioids derived from the opium poppy plant. Unlike natural opioids like morphine and codeine, which are extracted from opium pods and refined into medication, synthetic opioids are completely man-made in pharmaceutical laboratories.

Addiction to synthetic opioids can occur, and can be treated in an alcohol and drug rehab center for opioid abuse.

This guide addresses the following issues:

  • What is a synthetic opioid?
  • What is the difference between opioids and opiates?
  • How to connect with treatment for addiction to synthetic opioids.

Examples of Synthetic Opioids

Although a synthetic narcotic has a similar chemical structure to a natural opioid, the specific compounds that make up these drugs are entirely artificial. Unfortunately, synthetic opioids are often used to adulterate other drugs like heroin or cocaine. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are also pressed into counterfeit painkillers sold on the street. This has led to an increase in accidental overdose deaths, as synthetic opioids are incredibly potent.

List of Synthetic Opioids

The list of synthetic opioids is constantly changing as new variations are created in the pharmaceutical industry. These are some of the most commonly known illicit and legal synthetic opioids:

  • Fentanyl
  • Carfentanil
  • Acetylfentanyl
  • Butyrylfentanyl
  • Furanylfentanyl
  • 3-Methylfentanyl
  • U-47700
  • Methadone
  • Tramadol
  • Meperidine (Pethidine)
  • Diphenoxylate
  • Levorphanol
  • Dextromethorphan
  • Propoxyphene
  • Oxymorphone
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The Most Dangerous Synthetic Opioids

Fentanyl is a deadly synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is typically used to treat severe pain, such as that experienced by cancer patients. Regrettably, fentanyl is also a popular street drug that is often mixed with other substances like heroin and cocaine, leading to an increase in overdoses across the United States.

 Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is even stronger than fentanyl. It is primarily used as a veterinary tranquilizer for large animals like elephants and is not approved for human use. Despite this, carfentanil has made its way onto the streets and is responsible for numerous overdose deaths.

Tramadol is a synthetic opioid that is often prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. It is considered much less potent than other synthetic opioids like fentanyl but still has a significant potential for misuse and addiction.

Opioid Types

There are three main types of opioids:

  1. Natural opioids (opiates): Natural opioids are derived directly from the opium poppy plant. Examples of opiates include morphine, codeine, and heroin.
  2. Semi-synthetic opioids: Semi-synthetic opioids are created by modifying natural opioids and include drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone.
  3. Synthetic opioids: Synthetic opioids are wholly man-made and include drugs like fentanyl, tramadol, and methadone.

Semi-Synthetic Opioids

Semi-synthetic opioids are a class of drugs that are partially synthetic and partially derived from natural opiates like morphine and codeine. These drugs are created by modifying the chemical structure of natural opiates to produce new compounds with similar effects.

One of the most well-known semi-synthetic opioids is oxycodone, which is derived from thebaine, an alkaloid found in the opium poppy. Other examples of semi-synthetic opioids include hydromorphone (Dilaudid), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and oxymorphone (Opana).

Semi-synthetic opioids are commonly prescribed for pain management, but they also carry a high risk of misuse and addiction. Because these drugs are derived from natural opiates, they have similar effects on the body and brain. They can produce feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and pain relief, but can also trigger respiratory depression, constipation, and other side effects.

Misuse of semi-synthetic opioids can quickly lead to addiction, and withdrawal from these drugs can be difficult and painful. Treatment for semi-synthetic opioid addiction typically involves a combination of MAT (medication-assisted treatment) and behavioral therapy. MAT may include the use of drugs like buprenorphine or methadone to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings, while behavioral therapy can help address the underlying causes of addiction and develop coping skills for relapse prevention.

Opioids vs. Opiates

Understanding the difference between opiates versus opioids can cause some confusion as the terms are often and incorrectly used interchangeably. What’s the difference between opioids and opiates, then?

Opioids are a class of drugs, either synthetic or semi-synthetic, that replicate the effects of natural opiates such as codeine, morphine, and heroin. This group of drugs includes oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and tramadol. While prescribed as painkillers, opioids are susceptible to misuse and abuse, often resulting in addiction or fatal overdose.

Opiates, on the other hand, are a specific type of drug derived from the opium poppy plant. The most common opiates are morphine, heroin, and codeine. Opiates have been used as painkillers for centuries. That said, opiates also have a dark side, as they can lead to the rapid development of addiction.

So, all opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are opiates. Opioids can be natural, synthetic or semi-synthetic, while all opiates occur naturally in the opium poppy plant.

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Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction is a complex and chronic condition that affects the reward and motivation systems in the brain. Opioids work by attaching to specific receptors in the brain, which trigger the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that produces a sense of pleasure and well-being. With repeated use, the brain adapts to the presence of opioids and may start to reduce its own production of dopamine, making it increasingly difficult to experience pleasure without the drug. This process can lead to the development of physical dependence and addiction.

Addiction is characterized by the compulsive use of addictive substances, even in the face of negative consequences such as health problems, financial difficulties, and strained relationships. People who become addicted to opioids may experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit or reduce their use. Symptoms may include muscle aches, nausea, anxiety, and depression. Withdrawal symptoms can be so uncomfortable that individuals may continue to use opioids just to avoid them, leading to a cycle of addiction.

Opioid Addiction Treatment

Treating opioid addiction typically involves a combination of MAT (medication-assisted treatment) and behavioral therapies. MAT uses FDA-approved medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse. These medications work by attaching to the same mu-opioid receptors in the brain that opioids do, but in a controlled and safe way.

Behavioral therapies such as CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy), MI (motivational interviewing), and CM (contingency management) help individuals develop coping skills and address the underlying causes of addiction. CBT helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to addiction, while MI helps individuals find motivation to change and build self-confidence. CM rewards individuals for positive behaviors, such as attending treatment sessions or remaining drug-free, which can help reinforce positive habits.

Effective opioid addiction treatment also involves ongoing support and care, including access to peer support groups, individual counseling, and aftercare programs. The goal of treatment is not just to stop using opioids but to achieve lasting recovery and improve the overall quality of life. With the right treatment and support, individuals can successfully overcome opioid addiction and lead fulfilling and productive lives.

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Get Treatment for Opioid Addiction at Ohio Recovery Centers

At Ohio Recovery Centers, we understand that struggling with opioid addiction, including codeine addiction, can be a life-altering and challenging experience. Our mission is to help individuals overcome addiction and achieve long-lasting recovery through personalized treatment programs.

Our research-based intensive outpatient treatment programs are tailored to meet your specific needs. We offer flexible, affordable programs that provide the same level of care as inpatient programs. You can choose from our PHPs (partial hospitalization programs), IOPs (intensive outpatient programs), or dual diagnosis treatment programs for co-occurring disorders.

We equip our clients with the tools and support they need to manage relapse triggers and prevent future drug use. Don’t let codeine addiction control your life any longer. Take the first step towards a healthier, happier life by contacting us today at (877) 679-2132 to learn more about our treatment options.

Table of Contents

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn