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Medically Reviewed

What is the Difference Between Opium and Heroin?

- 8 sections

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

The United States is in the grips of a deadly opioid addiction crisis. More people are dying of prescription and illicit opioids than in recent decades, and the crisis is only growing.

It is important to understand the risks and effects of commonly abused opioids and learn how to seek treatment to overcome addiction. This article will explore the difference between two common opioids: opium and heroin.

What you will learn:

  • The effects and risks of opium and heroin
  • The differences between these drugs
  • Where to find opioid addiction treatment and support

If you or someone you love struggles with opioid abuse or addiction, contact the Carolina Center for Recovery to learn about our holistic treatment programs.

Opium vs. Heroin: An Overview

Opium and heroin have many similarities but some important differences. Here is an overview of the use, effects, and risks of both drugs.


Opium is an addictive narcotic drug derived from the opium poppy plant. People may refine opium to create other substances, including morphine and codeine, which can be used for cough suppression and pain relief.

Opium is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It reduces the speed of messages traveling between the brain and the body.

People ingest opium by injecting, snorting, swallowing, or smoking it. Short-term effects of opium use include:

  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Constipation
  • Appetite loss
  • Reduced pain
  • Relaxation
  • Slow heart rate
  • Euphoria

People who abuse opium are at risk of a deadly overdose. Symptoms of an opium overdose include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Constricted (very small) pupils
  • Very slow or shallow breathing

If someone near you is exhibiting signs of an opium overdose, call 911 right away. Administer Narcan (naloxone) if it is available. Wait with the person until EMS arrives.

People who abuse opium for extended periods may develop tolerance, meaning they require more of the drug to get the desired effects. Other long-term effects include:

  • Constipation
  • Irregular periods and reproductive challenges (women)
  • Low libido
  • Physical dependence

People who combine opium and other substances, including alcohol and other opioids, are at increased risk of overdose and other complications.


Heroin is derived from morphine which is derived from opium. It is most commonly available as a white or brownish powder. Drug dealers may mix other chemicals or substances into heroin to increase their profit margins. They may add starch, sugar, laundry detergent, and other substances that resemble heroin.

Heroin users inject, snort, or smoke heroin. They may combine it with other drugs to enhance its effects. This is very dangerous and may lead to overdose or other complications.

People who use heroin are at risk of overdose. Signs of a heroin overdose include:

  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Confusion
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Coma

If you or someone near you shows signs of a heroin overdose, call 911 right away. Remain with the person until help arrives. Administer Narcan (naloxone) if it is available.

Heroin is highly addictive. The drug binds to opioid receptors in the brain related to pain relief, emotional regulation, and pleasure. People experience short-term effects that include:

  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Sedation
  • Warmth
  • Pain relief

Long-term effects of heroin include:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Heart valve infections
  • Insomnia
  • Compromised immunity
  • Malnutrition
  • Addiction

People may develop physical dependence on heroin after using it for a short period. Heroin addiction can be very challenging to overcome. However, medically-supported detox, treatment, and ongoing support can help people prevent relapse.

What is the Difference Between Opium and Heroin?

Heroin and opium have many similarities and some significant differences. Here is an overview of the difference between heroin and opium.

Chemical makeup

Heroin and opium both have pain-relieving effects. Heroin and opium are both derived from the opium poppy. However, heroin is a semi-synthetic drug created from components of opium.


People refine opium to create synthetic opioids, including heroin, oxycodone, and fentanyl. While these drugs have similar effects, including sedation and euphoria, heroin is more potent than opium.

DEA scheduling

The Drug Enforcement Administration categorizes opium as a Schedule II drug. This means that it has a recognized medical use but has the potential for misuse and addiction.

Heroin is a Schedule I controlled substance. This classification means that it is an illegal drug with no accepted medical use.

Opium and heroin use can lead to addiction, overdose, and other severe complications. It is important to understand the risk of addiction and seek treatment if you recognize the signs of opioid abuse.

Find Opioid Addiction Treatment Now

Opioid addiction is a complex condition. People who struggle with opioid addiction often require comprehensive treatment and continuing support. Holistic treatment can help people manage withdrawal symptoms, develop practical coping skills, and prevent relapse.

If you or someone you love lives with opioid abuse or addiction, you are not alone. Contact the Carolina Center for Recovery specialists to explore our holistic treatment programs or schedule an intake assessment.


  1. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA): Opium
  2. DEA Museum: Opium Poppy
  3. Alcohol and Drug Foundation: What is opium?
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Heroin
  5. National Institutes of Health (NIH): Morphine
  6. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): Drug Scheduling