The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in 2017. And, with good reason.

In 2013, there were 251 million prescriptions for opioids written. That number declined to 191 million in 2017, but 11 million people misuse their medication.

The number of deaths due to opioid overdose is on the rise. 47,600 people died in 2017. 28,466 were from synthetic opiates.

The numbers are definitely alarming. Yet, Americans are becoming more aware of the dangers of opioids. With this education comes hope.

If you or someone you love are suffering from an opioid addiction, help is available. Don’t lose hope.

Read on to learn what synthetic opiates are, how they affect you in the short- and long-term, and how to find help.

synthetic opiates withdrawal and detox

What Are Synthetic Opiates?

Synthetic opiates are a form of painkiller.


There are three terms associated with the opioid epidemic: narcotic, opiate, and opioid. All three refer to painkillers. Although they’re used interchangeably, there is a distinction between the three.

  • Narcotics is the umbrella term for opiates and opioids. In the past few years, “narcotics” has fallen out of use due to the negative connotation surrounding it.
  • Opiates are a natural substance derived from poppy opium.
  • Opioids are semi-synthetic and synthetic opiates. In other words, they’re manmade from opiates.

Today, the word “opioid” is the general term for these types of painkillers. Hence, the “opioid epidemic.”

The list of opioids is long and includes illegal and legal drugs. The most common types of synthetic opiates are:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lorcet, Norco)
  • Oxycodone (Percoset, OxyContin)
  • Fentanyl
  • Tramadol

The chemical compound of heroin makes it an opiate as it comes directly from the poppy plant. But, it’s common to cut heroin with additives, making it a semi-synthetic opiate.

Morphine and codeine are also opiates.

How Are They Taken?

For most people addicted to synthetic opiates, they were first prescribed it for pain. Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet) is the most abused prescription opioid.

Patients suffering from moderate to severe pain or recovering from surgery get prescribed opioids in a pill form. The specific doses vary depending on the opioid.

For instance, hydrocodone comes in 5mg, 7.5mg, or 10mg doses. Each of these combines with 300mg of acetaminophen to produce the standard prescription.

Fentanyl is intravenously injected into a patient post-surgery in 50-100 mcg doses. The tablet form of tramadol comes in 50mg doses while the extended-release capsule varies between 100-300mg.

Regardless of the prescribed dose or specific opioid, the CDC found the higher the dose, the higher the risk for addiction and overdoes.

As a user’s dependence on the drug increases, their tolerance does as well. They begin to find ways to get synthetic opiates into their systems quicker. They inject, snort, or heat and inhale the drug.

Who Takes Synthetic Opiates?

Today, more than two million Americans have an addiction to opioids. As mentioned, most addicts began taking synthetic opiates via a prescription for main management.

The demographics of who takes opioids is vast. This is due to the various ages, genders, races, and financial status of people experience pain. In fact, 75% of those suffering from opioid addiction say they began taking the drug as a prescription.

Furthermore, 80% of heroin users admit they first took prescription opioids.

History of Synthetic Opiates

The first use of opium dates back thousands of years. Scientific evidence shows Cyprians cultivated poppy and used it in rituals 3,000 years ago.

In 1806, Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Sertürner, a German chemist isolated a substance found in opium and created morphine. By the end of the century, scientists synthesized heroin as a derivative of morphine. It was originally given as a cough suppressant.

After studies on the effects of opium increased, Congress passed The Heroin Act in 1924. Heroin sales stopped. But, the medical community didn’t agree with the decision.

In 1938 the FDA formed, overseeing the safe regulation of drugs (along with food and cosmetics). Drug companies continued to tweak opium to create new formulations that would pass the FDA’s safety regulations.

Percodan (oxycodone) was the first synthetic opiate widely used after the FDA approved it in 1950. Thus, other combinations followed.

Questions of the safety of these painkillers arose over the next few decades. Combined with the “War on Drugs,” doctors were wary of prescribing opioids in the 1980s.

Then, in the ’90s, pharmaceutical companies assured the medical community painkillers weren’t addictive. As such, the number of prescription opioids kicked into overdrive. This lead to the epidemic the U.S. faces today.

Synthetic Opiates Effects on the Body

Opioids act as depressants on the central nervous system. They bind to specific brain receptors to mimic the effects of our natural pain-relieving chemicals. By binding to these receptors, they block the perception of pain.

They also trigger the production of endorphins. This feel-good chemical gives people a euphoric high. As the use of opioids increases, the body’s natural production of endorphins decreases.

Effects on the Mind and Body

As the body’s production of endorphins decreases, it needs the opioid to balance its equilibrium. People who take synthetic opiates as they are prescribed will get pain relief and feel relaxed.

People who abuse opioids will also feel relaxed along with a sense of general euphoria.

Long-Term and Short-Term Health Effects

The short-term health effects of synthetic opiates include:

  • Constipation
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slowed breathing

The decrease in oxygen may lead to tingling or numbness in the user’s extremities.

The long-term effects are much more drastic. Along with developing a tolerance, users can quickly become dependent on the drug. This is because of the body’s decreased production of endorphins.

The long-term health effects of synthetic opiates include:

The chances of overdose also increase over time due to the body’s tolerance of opioids. Many times, a user doesn’t realize they’ve crossed the line into addiction.

Using Synthetic Opiates with Other Drugs

Synthetic opiates have the potential to cause even more damage when combined with other medications. This is true even for prescription use. That’s why disclosing all current medications to a doctor beforehand is important.

What Common Drugs Are Used with Synthetic Opiates?

For many, synthetic opiates are a gateway drug to heroin. But, there are other drugs that are dangerous when they’re combined with opioids. In general, these include:

  • Alcohol
  • Anti-seizure medications (Carbatrol, Tegretol)
  • Any other opioid
  • Medication for sleeping disorders (Ambien)
  • Medication for psychiatric disorders (Haldol)
  • Muscle relaxers (Amrix)
  • Sedatives (Valium)

If someone is taking an opioid, they should avoid specific drugs in other categories as well. These include:

  • Certain antibiotics (Biaxin)
  • Certain antidepressants
  • Certain antifungals: itraconazole (Onmel), ketoconazole and voriconazole (Vfend)
  • Certain drugs to treat HIV: atazanavir (Reyataz), indinavir (Crixivan), ritonavir (Norvir)

Because opioids cause drowsiness, combining it with other depressants can be fatal. If an addict experiences dilated pupils, unconsciousness, or very slow breathing, call 911.

The Road to Recovery Is a Phone Call Away

The recovery journey from synthetic opiates addiction is long and, at times, difficult. But it’s not impossible. Seeking treatment will help an addict through detox and give them the support they need.

At Addiction Treatment Services, we can help. We will find the right opioid treatment facility that’s the best option for you or your loved one.

Contact us today. Our admission specialists are available 24 hours a day.