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Athanasios Fountas, Shu Teng Chai, Chrysoula Kourkouti and Niki Karavitaki

The use of opioids has grown substantially over the past two decades reaching the dimensions of a global epidemic. These drugs have effects on multiple levels of the endocrine system through mechanisms which are still not fully elucidated, and awareness of their endocrine sequelae is vital for all specialists prescribing or managing patients on them. Hypogonadism is the most well-recognised consequence of opioid use (prevalence 21–86%) which, however, may remain undiagnosed with potential adverse outcomes for the patients. Although less frequent, cortisol deficiency can also be found. Furthermore, there is a negative impact on bone health (with reduced bone mineral density and increased fracture risk) and occasionally hyperprolactinaemia, whereas the clinical significance of alterations in other hormones remains to be clarified. Discontinuation or reduction of the opioid and, in cases of chronic pain, consideration of alternative therapies for pain relief are potential management options. Hormonal replacement, especially when the above measures are not practically feasible, needs to be considered. Further studies are needed to clearly establish the prevalence of hormonal abnormalities with various regimes, doses and routes of opioids and to address reliably the long-term benefits and risks of hormonal treatment in patients on opioids. Until evidence-based, safe and cost-effective clinical guidelines become available, periodical assessment of the gonadal and adrenal function (particularly when relevant clinical manifestations are present) and evaluation of the bone health status are advised.