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What Are The Most Powerful Opiates?

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

February 4, 2019

Opiate drugs are derived from chemicals that originate in the poppy plant. Some opiates are used as an effective way to eliminate pain, while others are used illicitly. However, the addictive nature of these drugs makes it important to understand the powerful state of the substances. Below is a list of the most common opiates and their potency.


When it comes to measuring the potency of opiates, morphine remains the measuring stick; all other opiates are described as more potent than morphine or less. There’s a simple reason for that: morphine is the actual active ingredient in the opium plant. It is, in effect, the substance that causes an opiate to be an opiate.

How potent is morphine? When taking 10 mg of intravenous morphine, a 3 to 6-hour painkilling effect starts up as quickly as 5 to 10 minutes after initial dosing. Other methods, such as oral ingestion, take longer: up to 30 to 60 minutes at a dosage rate of 30 to 60 mg.


Codeine is a derivative of morphine that is considered a schedule II narcotic. This means it can be prescribed to help treat moderate pain and can only be given out with a prescription. It’s weaker than pure morphine (200 mg of codeine is equivalent to 30 mg morphine), but still retains a potency that makes it potentially addictive if abused.

However, there are two different sub classes of codeine: oxycodone and hydrocodone. These two derivatives are also classed as schedule II narcotics, but vary in potency. For example, oxycodone is actually more potent than morphine (20 mg is equivalent to 30 mg of morphine), and it produces a 4 to 6-hour high after 10 to 15 minutes of a 10 to 20 mg dosage.

Hydrocodone is equivalent in potency to that of morphine, though it takes a 15 to 30 mg dosage to create a 4 to 6-hour effect. And it takes 30 to 60 minutes to go into effect. As a result, it is often prescribed to people who have a relatively low level of pain, as it lasts longer than morphine while possessing a similar level of potency.

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Heroin remains one of the most popular and powerful opiates in the world. And even with the release of potent opiate-based painkillers, heroin still remains dangerously addictive. For example, a study called “Comparative Analgesic Potency Of Heroin And Morphine In Post-Operative Patients” found that heroin was two to four times as potent as morphine.

The potency of heroin (as well as its illegality) has limited its usefulness as a painkiller. And heroin purchased on the street is often impure, meaning it is cut with inexpensive fillers, such as cocaine, that may interfere with its effects and even cause dangerous problems, such as respiratory failure and unconsciousness.


This drug has a wide variety of uses, due to its high level of potency. Buprenorphine is used primarily to treat opiate addiction, as it helps with moderate to chronic pain and blocks opioid receptors in the brain. These effects help take the edge off of withdrawal symptoms and makes rehabilitation an easier and more manageable task. It is often used in the place of morphine, though both are effective treatment options.

Buprenorphine requires only a very small dose to be effective: just 0.1 mg can be enough in some people to help treat pain symptoms and relieve withdrawal symptoms. Its lower dosage indicates both its level of potency and a level of caution by doctors prescribing it: any higher, and it may be addictive.


Few opiates, if any, are as potent as fentanyl. This opiate derivative has been tested as being 100 times more powerful than morphine, making it undoubtedly the most potent opiate available. As a result, its use is highly controlled and obtaining it is very difficult. It is most often used in emergency pain control situations or for those who are suffering from severe pain.

Just how potent is fentanyl? A 0.25 mg IV dosage of fentanyl is equivalent to a 30 mg dosage of morphine. The effect of this dosage will be immediate: pain will disappear and a severe “high” will begin. However, this potency has a drawback: it lasts only 1 to 2 hours, as opposed to the 3 to 6 hours other opiates offer.

Staying Educated On Opiate Potency

Legal opiates remain a powerful way to monitor pain and help people who are suffering from an addiction. However, their potency often makes them addictive, even to people who are using them properly. So if you or anyone dear to you is suffering from addiction to these opiates, please don’t hesitate to contact us at to get the help you need.

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