Opiate drugs are those that are derived, either naturally or synthetically, from the opium plant. There are opiate drugs that are illegal, such as heroin, and others that are legally available with a prescription. Opiates are often prescribed to treat pain but many are also effective in treating coughs.
Morphine, a naturally occurring substance in the opium plant, is the drug that all other opiate drugs are compared to for effectiveness. While it is a highly effective pain reliever, it is also highly addictive, according to HealthFaqs.org.
Codeine is naturally found in the opium plant; however, most of the codeine used for pharmaceutical purposes is made by chemically changing morphine. Codeine is an effective pain reliever for moderate pain, as well as a cough suppressant. Codeine is most often prescribed as a combination medication, either combined with acetaminophen or aspirin for pain, or with promethazine (an antihistamine) for cough relief.
Hydrocodone, a semi-synthetic derived from a natural part of the opium plant, is the most frequently prescribed opiate medication, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This medication is only prescribed in combination with other medications, most commonly acetaminophen, to treat moderate to severe pain. Hydrocodone is also combined with ibuprofen or aspirin for pain relief, or guaifenesin or chlorpheniramine to treat coughs.
Oxycodone, another semi-synthetic medication, is prescribed as a pain reliever for moderate to severe pain. Some prescriptions include only oxycodone while others are combination medications with oxycodone combined with either acetaminophen or aspirin. Oxycodone, according to the DEA, is a common source of illegal drug use resulting in an epidemic of addiction and fatal overdoses in some areas of the United States.
Methadone is a synthetic substance that, although different in chemical structure from morphine, produces the same effects in the body including pain relief and feelings of euphoria. Methadone is commonly prescribed as a treatment for morphine or heroin addictions, or as an alternative to treat chronic pain since it does not promote addiction.
Fentanyl, another synthetic drug, is an opiate prescription medication that is more than 80 times more potent than morphine, according to the DEA. Fentanyl is commonly prescribed as a transdermal (skin) patch for slow delivery of the medication to treat severe chronic pain. Fentanyl, like morphine, is highly addictive.
Meperidine, a synthetic prescription medication, produces similar effects to morphine but with a shorter duration. This medication is often used prior to anesthesia or to treat pain after surgery.