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What are opioid receptors?

Opioids are a class of G-protein receptors found in many parts of the body and have a wide variety of roles. They are found in the highest density in our brains. When opioids bind to the opioid receptors, this sets off a chemical reaction in the body that produces euphoric effects and also plays a role in pain control and pleasure. 

Opioid receptors also cause suppression of our respiratory drive, which is why overuse of opioid medications can lead to overdose and even death. Opioid receptors are also found in other parts of the body other than the central nervous system. For example, activation of the opioid receptors in our gastrointestinal tract slows down the motility of our gut. This is why opioid use can cause constipation. 

The medical community is continuing to learn about the many roles that opioid receptors play in our bodies. 

Discover how Suboxone takes advantage of opioid receptors to treat opioid use disorder.

Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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