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Synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids

Florida is one of the states where the misuse of opioid drugs has reached epidemic levels. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 70% of all overdose deaths in Florida involved opioids as of 2018. Between 2015 and 2018, there has been a massive increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids.

An opioid created artificially in a lab is synthetic, as opposed to one derived directly from plants. Some of these drugs are semi-synthetic, meaning that they have both natural and lab-generated components. Here are some examples of synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids.


According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid frequently prescribed as a painkiller. It is a semi-synthetic narcotic including a poppy plant component called thebaine but produced in a lab. Oxycodone is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning that it is only available legally with a doctor’s prescription, and there are restrictions on doctors’ ability to prescribe it.


Like oxycodone, hydromorphone is a Schedule II semi-synthetic opioid prescribed for pain relief. Compared to morphine, an entirely natural opioid, hydromorphone takes effect more quickly and is much more potent. These qualities make it an effective painkiller, but they also make it an attractive drug of abuse.


Fentanyl is an entirely synthetic opioid created artificially in a lab to mimic the effects of natural opioids, such as morphine, in a much more efficient way. Fentanyl is extremely potent, 100 times more so than morphine. Fentanyl’s potency makes it popular as a drug of abuse, but it also makes it more dangerous because exposure to small amounts can cause an overdose, which may prove fatal. Because of fentanyl’s abuse potential and risk of overdose, it is also a Schedule II controlled substance.

People who end up abusing heroin often start out with a prescription from a doctor for painkillers such as these for a legitimate medical complaint. However, misuse of these synthetic opioids in Florida has become even more deadly than heroin abuse in recent years.