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Drugs & Health Blog

Real Teens Ask: What Are the Different Types of Opioids?

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

This past Drug Facts Chat Day, teens from across the country submitted their questions about drug abuse to NIDA scientists. A teen from Walter Johnson High School in Maryland asked, “What types of opioids are there?

In general, opioids are psychoactive chemicals that work by binding to opioid receptors in the body. These receptors are found principally in the central and peripheral nervous system as well as the gastrointestinal tract and can produce both the good and bad effects of opioid use.

Many teens don’t know that there are illegal opioids (like heroin) as well as legal opioids that are prescribed for pain relief (like hydrocodone, which has the brand name of Vicodin). This is why common painkillers like Vicodin are so often abused—because they provide a “high” while relieving pain.

Here are the main types of opioids:

  • Natural opiates are alkaloids, nitrogen-containing base chemical compounds that occur in plants such as in the resin of the opium poppy. Natural opiates include morphine, codeine, and thebaine.
  • Semi-synthetic opioids are opioids created in labs from natural opiates. Semi-synthetic opioids include hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and oxycodone (the prescription drug OxyContin), as well as heroin, which is made from morphine.
  • Fully synthetic opioids are opioids that are completely manmade, including fentanyl, pethidine, levorphanol, methadone, tramadol, and dextropropoxyphene.

Some opioids (e.g., morphine, codeine, OxyContin) are used by doctors to treat various things, such as pain after surgery. But opioids also have addictive properties and negative health effects that make them dangerous when abused.

Do you have other questions about types of drugs? Tell us in comments.

Want to learn more? Read the blog post, “What Does It Mean to ‘Misuse’ Opioids?”

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


I have to do a project for health and its about drugs and the drug that I got was dextropropoxyphene I was wondering if you had any other information about this drug?

Hi Katelynn.  This sounds like an interesting project!  Dextropropoxyphene is an opioid analgesic that is often combined with acetaminophen.  It was taken off the market due to safety concerns.

Way is opioids
Is there anything about opium on this website?

Hi Nick, opium is a type of natural opiate that comes from the poppy plant.  For more information, check out this fact sheet on opium from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA):

I have to do a health project on OxyContin. Do y'all have any detailed information on it?

Hi Hannah, OxyContin is a type of opioid painkiller.  Check out the following links for some good information.  Good luck!

all i know is it comes in vary different things like nedels
can you help me i need some information on oxycontin.for a protege.

Hi Dalton.  For information about OxyContin, check out our response to Hannah above.  Good luck!

what are the ways opium is used?

Natural opiates are alkaloids (nitrogen-containing base chemical compounds) that occur in plants such as in the resin of the opium poppy. Natural opiates include morphine, codeine, and thebaine. Heroin is made from morphine.