Opioids, substances that act on opioid receptors and produce morphine-like effects, are called opioids. They are used primarily for pain relief and anesthesia. They can also be used for suppression of diarrhea, treatment for opioid addiction disorder, reverse opioid overdose, suppression of cough, and for executions in the United States. Carfentanil, a highly potent opioid, is only approved for veterinary use. Non-medical Opioids can also be used for their euphoric effects and to avoid withdrawal.

Side effects of opioids include nausea, vomiting, constipation, and respiratory depression. Tolerance can develop over time, which means that higher doses of opioids are needed to get the same effects. Physical dependence can also occur, meaning that abrupt discontinuation of the drug can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Opioids are attractive to recreational use. In addition, euphoria can lead to addiction. Respiratory depression is often caused by overdoses or concurrent use of other depressant drugs, such as benzodiazepines.

Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors. These receptors are located in the central and peripheral nervous system, the gastrointestinal tract, and the central and peripheral nervous systems. These receptors mediate both somatic and psychoactive effects of opioids. Partially agonists include loperamide for anti-diarrhea and antagonists such as naloxegol to treat opioid-induced constipation. These drugs do not cross the blood-brain barrier, but they can block other opioids binding to these receptors.

Opioids are addictive and can cause fatal overdoses. Most opioids are considered controlled substances. Between 28 and 38 million people used opioids illegally in 2013. This is 0.6% to 0.8% of global population aged 15-65. In 2011, approximately 4 million Americans used opioids for recreational purposes or became dependent. The over-prescription and availability of cheap illicit heroin and opioid medication have led to an increase in recreational and addictive use. Under-treatment of pain is also blamed on fears over opioid abuse, side effects that are exaggerated, and the fear of over-prescription.

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