What Are Synthetic Opioids?

What are synthetic opioids? Read on to learn about synthetic opioids including how they feel, their benefits, and significant risks.

What Are Synthetic Opioids?

Synthetic opioids or synthetic pain relievers are substances created in laboratories. Unlike natural opioids like morphine and codeine, synthetic pain relievers are not extracted from plants or natural sources. In many cases, synthetic opioids are manufactured and then brought into the United States illegally. 1 

Synthetic Opioids


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Are Synthetic Opioids Dangerous?

Synthetic opioids are a class of drugs that mimic the effects of heroin and morphine. They are much stronger than natural opioids and can be deadly in small doses. Law enforcement officials are increasingly encountering these drugs, which are often disguised as other medications. Synthetic opioids pose a severe threat to public safety and health. 1 

How Do People Take Synthetic Opioids?

When it comes to synthetic opioid drugs, people typically consume the substance via snorting, oral consumption, or intravenous injection. Synthetic opioids are commonly mixed with other substances. 1 

How Do Synthetic Opioids Work?

Synthetic opioids act on receptors in the brain to create analgesic or pain-relieving effects. Semi-synthetic opioids work similarly to natural opioids. 1 

How Do Synthetic Opioids Make You Feel?

When a person uses synthetic narcotics or opioids, they typically seek pain relief or an escape. Synthetic opioids are an unhealthy coping mechanism, not a solution.
The following sections will explore the common effects of synthetic opioid drugs. It is important to note that these effects are temporary and not without their own set of risks.

Pain Relief

Synthetic opioids are some of the most potent opioids available legally and illegally. For instance, fentanyl is placed on the synthetic opioids list as a drug used in medical settings for severe pain relief. Prescribed synthetic narcotics have a high potential for abuse and addiction. 1 

Euphoria or Well-Being

When a person is under synthetic or semi-synthetic opioids, feelings of euphoria and iniflated well-being are common. 1 


Relaxation, confusion, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, respiratory depression, urinary retention, and pupillary constriction are all effects of opioids on the body. 1 


Opioid effects also include sedation, sleepiness, and drowsiness. 1 

Signs of Opioid Use Disorder

If you or someone you care about struggles with an addiction to opioids, it’s critical to familiarize yourself with the signs of opioid use disorder (OUD). The following sections will explore possible signs of an addiction to opioids.

Obsessing Over Acquiring the Drug

Obsessing over synthetic pain relievers and spending excessive time obtaining the drug can indicate opioid use disorder. 2

Buying Opioids Online or From Strangers

Participating in risky behaviors, such as purchasing unregulated opioid drugs, can indicate opioid addiction.2 

Withdrawing From Friends and Family

When someone is addicted to a synthetic opiate, they may stop participating in social activities or isolate themselves from loved ones. 2 

Chronic Constipation

Opioid effects include chronic constipation. Therefore, this can be a sign of OUD. 2 

Increased Anxiety

If a person is addicted to an opioid’s mechanism of action, they may appear more anxious than usual. 2 

Increased Irritability

Irritability and frustration are common signs of addiction, including opioid use disorder.

Decreased Appetite

If a person is addicted to opiates, they may experience unusual changes in appetite or nausea. 2 

Difficulty Sleeping

Insomnia and difficulty sleeping are associated with substance use disorders, including OUD. 2 


Agitation, cravings, and shakiness are possible signs of an opiate or synthetic heroin addiction. 2 

What Are The Types of Synthetic Opioids?

Synthetic drug examples include fentanyl and methadone.1 Keep reading to learn more about some of the most potent synthetic opioids.


Fentanyl is one of the most potent opioids on the market. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), fentanyl is approximately fifty to one-hundred times stronger than morphine. This synthetic pain reliever is typically only used in medical settings following surgeries. Fentanyl, one of the strongest opioids, is responsible for many overdose deaths in the United States. 3 


Methadone is another substance on the synthetic opioids list. This substance is a synthetic opioid antagonist commonly used to combat withdrawal symptoms or relieve cravings. Methadone targets the same receptors as synthetic heroin, morphine, and pain medications. Unlike synthetic opioids’ mechanism of action, methadone does not result in feelings of euphoria. Methadone is often prescribed in medication-assisted therapy (MAT) clinics. 4 

Benefits of Synthetic Opioids

The following sections will discuss the potential benefits associated with synthetic opioids.


For individuals struggling with tolerance and chronic pain, the most potent opioids can provide immense relief. 5 

Faster Production

Since the manufacturing of synthetic opioids doesn’t involve plants, these substances can be created in labs more quickly than natural opioids. 5 

Low Cost

Along with faster production comes lower costs. Synthetic pain relievers are typically less expensive than natural opioids. 5 

Drug Culture

Along with the mechanism of action of opioids, there is a specific drug culture surrounding synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Drugs like fentanyl are only available legally in medically supervised settings. 5 

Risks of Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic pain relievers and the long-term effects of opioids present a significant risk. Illegally produced synthetic opioids are generally more potent and dangerous than similar legal substances. 1  Keep reading to learn about the possible risks associated with synthetic opioids, including overdosing on opioids.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 36,000 people died in 2019 due to synthetic opioid use. Synthetic opioids are the leading cause of opiate overdose deaths in the United States. 6  Possible signs of overdose include stupor, coma, clammy skin, respiratory failure, and pinpoint pupils. Overdosing on opioids is a public health crisis. 1 

Vein Damage

For intravenous (IV) drug users, synthetic opioids pose a significant risk of vein damage. Vein damage can result in chronic venous disorders. Destroyed veins from repeated injection and infection can lead to severe health conditions, including sclerosis and thrombosis. 7 


The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has reported that the production and trafficking of synthetic opioids have steadily increased. Fentanyl and related illegally produced synthetic opiate substances present a high risk for people abusing substances.