Opiate & opioid facts

In this article, we take a closer look at opiates and opioids, what they are, how they are used, the side effects of opiate/opioid use and more.

What are opiates and opioids?

Opiates are natural chemical compounds that are extracted or refined from plant matter, such as poppy sap and fibres. Examples of opiates include heroin, morphine, and codeine.

The terms ‘opiates’ and ‘opioids’ are often used interchangeably. However, the two are different.

Unlike opiates, opioids are chemical compounds that are not generally derived from plant matter and are commonly manufactured in a ‘lab’ or ‘synthesized’. Examples of opioids include methadone and fentanyl.

What are the street names for opiates and opioids?

Some of the most common street names for opiates and opioids include:

  • Opium – Poppies, O.P., Bloc, Gum, Tar, Dope
  • Codeine – Captain Cody, Cody, Little C, School Boy
  • Methadone – Meth, Juice, Phy
  • Heroin – Smack, H, Horse, Gear, Skag, Brown, Junk, China White

What do opiates look like?

Opiate painkillers are available in a wide range of forms, and a variety of colours. They are commonly supplied in tablet, capsule or syrup form.

How are opiates/opioids used?

Opiates and opioids are used in a variety of ways, depending on their format.

Often, they are ingested in tablet, capsule, or syrup form, but can also be inhaled using a nebuliser, or absorbed via a patch on the skin.

They may also be injected or smoked.

How do people behave when they take opiates and opioids?

How someone feels and behaves after taking opiates can vary.

However, people who misuse opiates/opioids may experience mood and sleep changes and can be prone to poor decision making.

What are the side effects of opiates and opioids?

The physical side effects of opiates and opioids can depend on several factors, including how the drug is ingested, frequency of use, and the metabolism and weight of the person.

Some common side effects include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Raised body temperature
  • Nausea
  • Hallucinations
  • Reduced blood pressure and slower heart rate
  • Urinary retention
  • Constricted pupils
  • Respiratory depression (slow/ineffective breathing)
  • Drowsiness

When injected, adverse effects include vein damage, infections, and blood clots.

A person who injects opiates or opioids is also at an increased risk of overdosing or contracting life-altering infections such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. This risk is even greater among users who share needles.

What happens when you use opiates/opioids with other drugs?

Below is an overview of the side effects of using opiates alongside other drugs.

Alcohol and sedatives

Consuming synthetic opioids alongside alcohol or other sedatives, such as benzodiazepines, can have serious consequences, increasing the risk of overdose, which can lead to a coma or respiratory/heart failure.


Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin, and 100 times stronger than morphine. It is a major contributor to fatal and non-fatal overdoses among recreational drug users.

Which legislation covers opiate and opioid use?

Heroin (also known as diamorphine or diacetylmorphine), methadone, codeine, and medicinal opium are all Schedule 2 controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977.

This means that the illegal import, export, production, possession, sale, or supply of any of these substances is prohibited.

Anyone who commits one of these offences could be liable for a fine, prison sentence, or both. However, several factors will be considered for sentencing including the type, quantity, and total value of the drugs found.

Are opiates and opioids used in medicine?

Some opiates and opioids may be prescribed in healthcare settings to treat a range of conditions, including as pain relief for patients experiencing chronic pain or receiving end of life care.

Methadone is used to treat heroin dependency and can help reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Can you become addicted to opiates and opioids?

Opiates and opioids trigger the release of endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain.

Endorphins lessen a person’s perception of pain and boost feelings of pleasure, creating a temporary but powerful sense of wellbeing.

This means that a person using opiates, even when prescribed, can be vulnerable to developing a dependency or addiction.

Addiction is typically defined as a compulsive craving, which leads to repeated use of a drug – often with harmful consequences.

How long does it take for opiates and opioids to show up in a drug test?

Even after the ‘high’ has worn off, and long after the drug was first consumed, opiate/opioid use can be detected by a drug test, depending on the type of test you take.

The drug testing detection windows for opiates/opioids are as follows:

  • Oral fluid (saliva) – up to 48 hours
  • Urine – up to 4 days
  • Hair – up to 12 months (depending on the length of hair available)
  • Nails – up to 12 months (up to 6 months for fingernails and up to 12 months for toenails)

Oral fluid and urine drug testing are known as ‘narrow-window’ forms of testing and can be used to detect drug use from 30 minutes after consumption, up to a few days.

This can vary depending on the type of substance and how much was used.

The rate at which hair and nails grow means that both hair drug testing and nail drug testing can provide a ‘wide-window’ of detection for drugs and their metabolites (up to 12 months).

Where can I buy a drug test?

Our Home Drug Testing Kit has been designed to give you peace of mind or enable you to seek support for a friend or loved one who is struggling with substance misuse.

This easy-to-use, self-contained screening kit can detect drugs and their metabolites in a urine sample, with built-in test strips that allow you to read the results in just 5 minutes

Please be aware that our home drug test kits are for peace of mind only, and the results cannot be used in court. If you require a drug test for official matters, you will need a legally-instructed drug test.

For confidential advice about which test might best suit your needs, you can also call our Customer Services team on 01 402 9466 or email

Home Drug Testing Kit

Order your home drug testing kit online now for just €20.

Marie Law AlphaBiolabs

Marie Law

Head of Toxicology at AlphaBiolabs

A highly-skilled and respected scientist with over 13 years’ experience in the field of forensics, Marie joined AlphaBiolabs in 2022 and oversees the company’s growing toxicology team.

As Head of Toxicology, Marie’s day-to-day responsibilities include maintaining the highest quality testing standards for toxicology and further enhancing AlphaBiolabs’ drug and alcohol testing services for members of the public, the legal sector, and the workplace sector.

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