January 9, 2024 Opioid

Synthetic Opioids: What You Need to Know

Synthetic opioids are a double-edged sword. While they offer effective pain relief, they come with grave dangers and risks. These substances have a high potential for opioid addiction and overdose, often leading to tragic consequences.

This article will explore synthetic opioids in detail, shedding light on common types and the devastating risks associated with their use. In addition, we’ll discuss treatment options for those battling addiction and prevention strategies that aim to save lives.

Key Takeaways

While effective in severe pain management, synthetic opioids come with grave risks. Here is what you need to know about these drugs:

  • Synthetic opioids are lab-manufactured pain relief drugs that can be more potent than natural opioids.
  • Common synthetic opioids include fentanyl, methadone, tramadol, and carfentanil, each with varying potencies and uses.
  • Synthetic opioids have played a significant role in the opioid crisis, leading to overdoses and deaths.
  • Misusing synthetic opioids can lead to overdose, addiction, and various physical and mental health risks.
  • Recognizing the signs, seeking treatment, and implementing prevention strategies are vital in addressing synthetic opioid disorders.

If you are struggling with opioid addiction, Indiana Center for Recovery is here to offer compassionate care. Contact us at (844) 650-0064 today for more information.

Understanding Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioids are a class of drugs chemically synthesized in a laboratory and designed to mimic the effects of natural opioids, such as morphine and heroin. These drugs interact with the body’s opioid receptors, reducing pain and producing a sense of euphoria. However, their high potency makes them prone to misuse, addiction, and overdose.

Here is an explanation of synthetic opioids, their uses, and regulations:

Chemical Structure: Synthetic opioids are chemically distinct from natural opioids but share similar pharmacological properties. They interact with opioid receptors in the brain and body to produce pain relief and other effects.

Medical Uses: Many synthetic opioids are used medically to manage moderate to severe pain. Examples include drugs like fentanyl, oxycodone, and tramadol. Some synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are used in anesthesia to induce and maintain a state of unconsciousness during surgery.

Regulation and Control: Synthetic opioids are tightly regulated due to their potential for abuse and harm. Prescription opioids are typically controlled substances, and strict rules surround their production, distribution, and prescription.

Therefore, it’s crucial for individuals to use these medications as prescribed by a healthcare provider and to be aware of the potential risks associated with synthetic opioids.

Exploring the Spectrum: Types of Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioids are a diverse group of powerful pain-relieving drugs that have gained notoriety due to their potency and associated risks. Here, we’ll explore four common types of synthetic opioids:


Fentanyl is perhaps the most notorious among synthetic opioids. It’s an exceptionally potent synthetic compound, estimated to be 50-100 times stronger than morphine. Initially developed for medical use as a painkiller, fentanyl has found its way into illicit drug markets, often mixed with other substances like heroin or cocaine. This deadly combination has contributed to a significant increase in opioid-related overdoses.


Methadone is a synthetic opioid with a long history of use in opioid addiction treatment programs. It acts on the same receptors in the brain as other opioids, alleviating withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Its long-lasting effects make it a valuable tool in helping individuals overcome opioid addiction when used under close medical supervision. However, when misused or combined with other substances, it can lead to overdose.


Tramadol is a synthetic opioid with a dual purpose. It not only binds to opioid receptors but also inhibits the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, providing both pain relief and a mild antidepressant effect. While considered less potent than drugs like fentanyl, tramadol is not without risk. Misuse or overdose can still lead to serious health risks, including seizures and respiratory depression.


Carfentanil is an extremely potent synthetic opioid used primarily as a sedative for large animals like elephants. However, it has found its way into the illicit drug market and poses an extreme danger to human life. This drug is estimated to be 10,000 times stronger than morphine; even a tiny amount can be lethal. Its use has been associated with numerous overdose deaths, making it one of the deadliest synthetic opioids in circulation.

Synthetic Opioids and the Opioid Crisis: What’s the Link?

Synthetic opioids have played a significant and troubling role in the ongoing opioid crisis in the US. Let’s explore the specific ways in which synthetic opioids have contributed to this crisis.

Potency and Overdose Risk

Synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl, are incredibly potent. Fentanyl is estimated to be 50-100 times more potent than morphine. This potency means that even small amounts of the drug can result in a life-threatening overdose. Many overdose deaths in the opioid crisis are linked to the illicit use of fentanyl, often unknowingly mixed with other substances like heroin or counterfeit prescription pills.

Illicit Manufacturing and Distribution

One of the major challenges in addressing the opioid crisis is the illicit manufacturing and distribution of synthetic opioids. Criminal organizations often produce fentanyl and its analogs in clandestine labs, making it readily available on the black market. This illicit production has led to a surge in overdose deaths nationwide.

Lethal Mixing

Synthetic opioids have frequently been combined with other drugs, creating a lethal concoction. For instance, when fentanyl is mixed with heroin or cocaine, people are at a heightened risk of overdose. This deadly combination has contributed significantly to the high mortality rates associated with synthetic opioids.

Escalating Overdose Deaths

The opioid crisis has resulted in a staggering number of drug overdose deaths. In recent years, synthetic opioids have become the leading cause of overdose fatalities in the United States. These drugs have pushed the crisis to new heights, challenging healthcare systems and communities nationwide.

Challenges for Treatment and Prevention

The opioid crisis presents significant challenges for treatment and prevention efforts. The potency of synthetic opioids often requires more intensive medical intervention to address overdoses. Additionally, the high risk of overdose makes harm reduction strategies, such as naloxone distribution, critical in saving lives.

The Dark Side of Synthetic Opioids: Risks Revealed

Synthetic opioids pose severe dangers and risks that have contributed significantly to the opioid crisis in the United States. These risks affect both individuals who misuse these substances and society at large.

Overdose and Death

One of the most immediate and severe risks associated with synthetic opioids is the potential for overdose and death. These drugs, like fentanyl, are extraordinarily potent, meaning that even a tiny amount can lead to a life-threatening overdose. The illicit presence of synthetic opioids in street drugs has resulted in a staggering rise in overdose deaths nationwide.

Addiction and Dependence

Synthetic opioids are highly addictive, and their abuse can lead to rapid dependence. Addiction to these substances is characterized by a compulsive need to use them despite facing negative consequences. Breaking free from synthetic opioid addiction can be incredibly challenging, as the withdrawal symptoms can be severe and painful, driving individuals to continue using the drug.

Physical and Mental Health Risks

The use of synthetic opioids can result in various physical and mental health risks. Chronic use can lead to respiratory problems, heart issues, and weakened immune function. Moreover, the impact on mental health is substantial, with increased rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders among those who misuse these substances.

Synthetic Opioid Use Disorder: Signs and Treatments

Synthetic opioid use disorder is a severe condition that affects many individuals in the United States. Recognizing, treating, and preventing this disorder is of utmost importance in addressing the ongoing opioid crisis.

Recognizing the Signs

Recognizing the signs of synthetic opioid addiction is the first step toward seeking help and support. Common indicators may include:

Physical Symptoms: People with synthetic opioid use disorder may exhibit physical signs such as pinpoint pupils, drowsiness, and slurred speech. They may also experience constipation, itching, and weight loss.

Behavioral Changes: Watch for behavioral changes, including neglecting responsibilities, social withdrawal, and preoccupation with obtaining and using synthetic opioids.

Tolerance and Withdrawal: The development of tolerance, where higher doses are needed for the same effect, and withdrawal symptoms like nausea, sweating, and restlessness when not using opioids are telltale signs of the disorder.

Loss of Control: Individuals with this substance use disorder often find it challenging to control their substance use, leading to continued use despite adverse effects.

Cravings: Strong cravings for opioids and the inability to cut down or control use are also indicators of an opioid use disorder.

Finding Effective Treatment

Treatment for synthetic opioid use disorder is available and can significantly improve an individual’s chances of recovery. Effective treatment approaches may include:

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): MAT involves FDA-approved medications, like buprenorphine or methadone, combined with counseling to manage opioid cravings and support recovery.

Behavioral Therapy: Different forms of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or contingency management (CM), can help individuals develop coping strategies and prevent relapse.

Support Groups: Engaging in support groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or SMART Recovery can provide valuable peer support and encouragement during recovery.

Family Involvement: Engaging family members in treatment can improve outcomes. It helps create a supportive environment for recovery.

Prevention Strategies

Preventing synthetic opioid use disorder is a collective effort involving individuals, communities, and healthcare professionals. Prevention strategies include:

Education: Raising awareness about the risks of synthetic opioids through community programs, schools, and healthcare settings can help prevent misuse.

Safe Disposal: Properly disposing of unused opioids to prevent their misuse by others.

Prescription Monitoring: Healthcare providers should use prescription drug monitoring programs to track opioid prescriptions and identify potential misuse.

Naloxone Availability: Ensure access to naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses, for individuals at risk and their loved ones.

Promote Alternatives: Explore non-opioid pain management options and promote their use, particularly for chronic pain conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the main difference between natural and synthetic opioids?

The primary difference between natural and synthetic opioids is their origin. Natural opioids, like heroin, come from opium poppies. In contrast, synthetic opioids are manufactured in laboratories, such as fentanyl and methadone. While both can relieve pain, synthetic opioids are often more potent, increasing the risk of addiction and overdose.

Are synthetic opioids more potent?

Yes, synthetic opioids are generally more potent than natural opioids. They can be up to 100 times stronger than opioids like morphine or heroin. This potency makes them effective for pain management but also increases the risk of overdose and addiction, making them particularly dangerous when misused.

What does “synthetic opioid” mean?

A synthetic opioid is an artificial drug created in a lab. Unlike natural opioids that come from plants, synthetic opioids are produced through chemical processes. They are designed to provide pain relief but can be much stronger and riskier than natural opioids, potentially leading to addiction and overdose.