The opioid crisis came to the forefront of the Canadian conscious in 2015 and 2016. In 2016, the crisis claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Despite promises from governments and many new initiatives and actions aimed at curbing the crisis, experts expect that the death toll exceeded 4,000 in 2017.
The crisis appears to be deepening, not abating. As it continues, Canadians need to be informed so they can protect themselves and their loved ones as best as possible. To that end, they need a working opioid definition.
What Is an Opioid?
Most people know opioids are powerful painkillers. They may even be able to name a few of the more common ones. Morphine and heroin are both opioids, as is codeine. Fentanyl is another opioid in the news lately, as it’s been connected to many of the opioid-related deaths in the last two years.
The most common opioid definition includes these substances and more. Opioids are usually considered a class of drugs that includes both naturally derived painkillers, such as opium and morphine, and synthetic substances like hydrocodone, codeine, oxycodone, and others.
These substances are controlled, and they’re sometimes illegal, such as in the case of heroin. Others are available legally, often with a prescription from a healthcare practitioner.
Opioid vs. Opiate
Canadians may be somewhat confused by two similar sounding words: opioid and opiate. These two words both refer to substances with painkilling properties related to the opium poppy. The difference is very slight, but it’s important to understand the opioid definition and the opiate definition.
The word opiate refers to substances derived from the opium poppy. Opium, morphine, and heroin are all opiates. Codeine is also sometimes considered an opiate, although it’s sometimes classed as a synthetic substance.
“Opiate” doesn’t usually refer to synthetic substances such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. These substances are known almost exclusively as “opioids,” meaning they’re opiate-like. They are not derived from the opium poppy and are completely man-made. The term opioid can also refer to opiates.
The Legal Definition
There is also a legal opioid definition, which differs only slightly from the medical definition. While some scientific literature will note the difference between “opioids” and “opiates,” the law tends to treat them all as one class of substances. Synthetic opioids are treated the same way as naturally derived substances.
The legal definition is important because opioids are heavily regulated. While some are legal, they are not usually available without a prescription. Even with a prescription, the dispensing rules around opioids are quite strict. Pharmacies must store opioids carefully, as theft and unauthorized access are common issues.
Some opioids are illegal, including heroin. Heroin falls into another category, narcotics. The legal definition of “narcotic” is again somewhat different than in the medical field. The medical field will sometimes refer to “opioids” as “narcotics.” Legally, however, the narcotics class includes other substances, such as cocaine. These substances have relatively little in common with most opioids.
Why You Need to Know
Why is it so important for Canadians to have a working opioid definition? As the country is in the middle of an opioid crisis, it’s important for more Canadians to understand which substances are opioids and when their healthcare practitioners are prescribing them. In many cases, Canadians may not know their prescription painkillers are opioids.
Another important reason to understand the definition of opioid is to be clear on where it overlaps with the terms “narcotic” and “opiate.” Without an understanding, it can be somewhat difficult to determine which substances are legal and which ones may not be.
Finally, knowing the definition can help Canadians understand the opioid crisis and learn more about what they can do to counter the crisis and help their loved ones.