Strictly speaking the word opiate only refers to drugs that are made from opium. Over the years however, it has often been used (sweepingly and inaccurately) to refer to all drugs with opium-like or morphine-like effect, more properly called opioids or synthetic drugs used as opiate substitutes.
Heroin on the other hand is a semi-synthetic opiate made from morphine. Morphine was the first individual alkaloid isolated from the poppy plant in 1804. A chemical reaction with acetic anhydride turns morphine into heroin. Finally there’s synthetic heroin which does not contain any opium and is completely man-made but have the same effects as heroin. Some examples of synthetic opiates or synthetic heroin are:
Methadone in particular is used to treat opioid dependence, having cross tolerance with other opioids including morphine and heroin. This drug is included in a 10-panel urine drug test, so if going for an employment-related opiates drug test or any other prescription drug test, it would be best to bring a doctor’s certification that it has indeed been prescribed.
For purposes of discussion, the word opiate is used interchangeably with prescription opiates, which are entirely legal in the United States, compared to heroin. As a street drug, heroin is never pure. Its potency depends on how it was manufactured and the ingredients and additives that went into making it.
What kinds of people use heroin?
A recent study in Chicago of sub-urban parents, students and heroin users brought forth several observations:
Most people have no clear understanding about heroin before getting introduced to it.
Over 30% of those surveyed started out as prescription painkiller addicts before starting on heroin.
75% of the respondents are using heroin to self-medicate concurrent mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, ADHD and chronic depression.
Over 60% of respondents have “thrill-seeking” personalities.
Heroin users are mostly white, averaging in age of first use at 18.
What kinds of people use prescription opiates?
During the late 1800s prescription opiate users were mostly women. This was attributed to the widespread medical practice of prescribing opiates to women for menstrual and menopausal discomforts. As a result, the average age of female opiate dependents back then was 39. Further, an 1885 Iowa survey showed that most of the opiate users came from the educated and most respected members of the society. Worth noting as well was the fact that there was hardly any reference to the use of opiates among the black communities, implying that opiate addiction was almost entirely a condition among the whites only.
A report by DASIS noted a statistic involving non-heroin opiate users who have been admitted to hospitals. They accounted for 3% of all substance abuse-related admissions but when compared to heroin-related admissions, they were more likely to be first-time admissions. This means that heroin abusers tend to be admitted repeatedly.
Gender-wise, females made up 47% of non-heroin opiate treatments and 32% heroin-specific treatments, showing how heroin is a bit less “popular” with the female population.
More stats show that prescription opiate(PO-only) users and combi-PO/H(heroin) users are more likely to be older, users of benzodiazepines and cocaine, and are less likely to use walk-in clinics. PO-only users also tend to be white, non-IV drug users, with respectable jobs, have medical conditions requiring pain management drugs and have their own private doctors. Over the last decade, more and more people are becoming addicted to prescription opioids than heroin.
These general characteristics of opiate users drastically changed after 1914, and then again in the late 1960s, with similar changes every now and then, and in different places among different kinds of people. This only demonstrates that whatever profile for opiate addicts are available at any one time can and will change. Studies that assign certain personality traits or race or socio-economic background to a tendency to use any particular drug cannot be viewed as permanently reliable.