Opioids, including both prescription drugs and illegal substances like heroin, are potent pain-relief medications derived from the poppy plant or synthesized in laboratories. Common prescription opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and morphine work by blocking pain signals and enhancing pleasure in the brain. However, despite their effectiveness in managing severe pain, such as post-surgical pain, opioids carry significant risks, particularly when misused. They can lead to drowsiness, slowed breathing, heart rate issues and even death at higher doses. The euphoria they induce can also increase the risk of addiction.

Opioid medications, when used as prescribed, effectively manage severe pain, such as that experienced post-surgery. These drugs, which include both naturally derived (e.g., morphine) and synthetic (e.g., fentanyl) opioids, work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking pain signals and sometimes inducing pleasure. However, their misuse poses significant risks. Low doses of opioids can cause drowsiness but higher doses may dangerously slow breathing and heart rate, potentially leading to death. The euphoria associated with opioid use can also lead to addiction, characterised by a loss of control over drug use.

Prescription opioids interact with the brain by attaching to specific opioid receptors found in the brain, spinal cord and various organs, crucially those that regulate pain and pleasure sensations. Upon binding to these receptors, opioids effectively interrupt pain messages that the brain sends to the body and trigger a significant release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. This surge in dopamine not only alleviates pain but also can make the experience of taking the drug highly rewarding, encouraging repeated use of the substance.

To minimise these risks, it’s essential to follow a doctor’s prescription guidelines carefully. Patients should discuss all medications and supplements they are taking with their healthcare provider and consider alternative pain relief methods, especially if they have a higher risk of addiction. Opioid addiction, a serious concern, often starts with prescription opioids and can lead to misuse of illegal opioids like heroin. The misuse of opioids can lead to increased tolerance, dependence and potentially life-threatening respiratory problems. In the U.S., a significant number of heroin addictions in the 2000s originated from the misuse of prescription opioids.

The history of opioid use dates back centuries with their pain-relief properties known since ancient times. However, the risks of misuse and addiction have become more evident over time. Treating opioid addiction typically involves detoxification to manage withdrawal symptoms and therapy to address the psychological aspects of addiction, using methods like cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and group counselling. These treatments aim to provide coping mechanisms to prevent relapse and support long-term recovery.

What Is The Difference Between Opioids and Opiates?

There has been a shift towards using “opioids” as a catch-all term, particularly among journalists, politicians and various media outlets, including websites. Both opiates and opioids have legitimate medical uses, including pain relief, anesthesia, cough and diarrhea suppression and treating substance use disorders.

The primary distinction between opiates and opioids lies in their origin. Opiates are derived from natural sources, specifically the poppy plant and include substances like opium, morphine, codeine and heroin. On the other hand, opioids are primarily synthesized in laboratories, although a few, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, are semi-synthesized from opium components. The pharmaceutical industry has developed over 500 opioid molecules with a range of medical applications in the U.S., from cough suppressants like dextromethorphan to pain relievers like fentanyl.

Both opiates and opioids are categorised as narcotics, a term originally denoting substances that induce sleep or numbness. Despite the nuances in their definitions and origins, the broader term “opioid” is increasingly used to encompass both natural and synthetic narcotics. Additionally, for individuals dependent on these substances, switching between opiates and opioids can sometimes manage dependency and mitigate withdrawal symptoms. This adaptability points to the complex relationship between medicinal use and the potential for addiction, highlighting stories of individuals transitioning from prescribed narcotics to illicit drugs like heroin when their prescriptions end.

Opioid Overdoses

Opioid overdose occurs when an individual takes more opioids than their body can process, leading to a significant slowdown in breathing, which can result in unconsciousness or death. Risk factors for opioid overdose include taking opioids in higher doses or more frequently than prescribed, combining them with alcohol or sedatives (like sleeping pills, muscle relaxants or benzodiazepines), using drugs intravenously, switching to a stronger opioid or one that the body isn’t accustomed to or using drugs whose purity or strength is unknown. Misuse of opioids, such as crushing extended-release tablets which release the drug too quickly, also heightens the risk of overdose. The variability in strength and type of street opioids, especially with the presence of extremely potent substances like fentanyl and carfentanil, further increases the danger of overdose and death.

Recognising the signs of an opioid overdose is crucial, including difficulty in walking, talking, staying awake, blue or grey lips or nails, very small pupils, cold and clammy skin, dizziness, confusion, extreme drowsiness and slow or absent breathing. In the event of a suspected overdose, it’s imperative to call emergency services immediately and administer naloxone if available, a medication that can temporarily reverse an overdose if given promptly. However, naloxone’s effects may wear off before the opioid’s, necessitating more than one dose, which is why calling for professional help is important even if naloxone has been administered.

    Addiction & Mental Health

    Treatment Services

    Founded in 2008, WeDoRecover has evolved from an advisory service for addiction treatment into a comprehensive provider of care, following its 2019 merger with Changes Addiction Rehab in Johannesburg. Specialising in connecting patients to top-tier addiction treatment centers in the UK, South Africa and Thailand, WeDoRecover supports individuals globally, including those from the United Arab Emirates and Europe. Accepting both South African medical aid and international health insurance our organisation facilitates access to high-quality treatment for substance and alcohol use disorders, offering individualised care that addresses the physical, mental and social needs of patients.

    Our team, led by Gareth Carter, offers empathetic and professional support, guiding you through every step of the treatment process. Whether you're in South Africa or abroad, our acceptance of various insurance plans makes quality care accessible, providing a platform for lasting recovery and a healthier future.

    Inpatient Rehab

    Rehab care is a good option if you are at risk of experiencing strong withdrawal symptoms when you try stop a substance. This option would also be recommended if you have experienced recurrent relapses or if you have tried a less-intensive treatment without success.


    If you're committed to your sobriety but cannot take a break from your daily duties for an inpatient program. Outpatient rehab treatment might suit you well if you are looking for a less restricted format for addiction treatment or simply need help with mental health.


    Therapy can be good step towards healing and self-discovery. If you need support without disrupting your routine, therapy offers a flexible solution for anyone wishing to enhance their mental well-being or work through personal issues in a supportive, confidential environment.

    Mental Health

    Are you having persistent feelings of being swamped, sad or have sudden surges of anger or intense emotional outbursts? These are warning signs of unresolved trauma mental health. A simple assesment by a mental health expert could provide valuable insights into your recovery.

    Finding the right rehab close to you is simple with WeDoRecover. Our network includes the finest rehab centers, ensuring personalised, quality care for your recovery needs. Let Gareth Carter and our empathetic team help guide you to a center that feels right for you, offering expert care and support. Start your healing today by choosing a rehab that's not just close to you, but also that truly cares about your loved ones recovery.

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