The term 'opioids' refers to both the natural compounds ('opiates') which are extracted from the opium poppy plant () and their semi-synthetic and synthetic derivatives. They all possess relatively similar biochemical profiles and interact with the opioid receptors within the human body to produce a wide range of physiological effects. They have historically been used for medicinal purposes, their analgesic and sedative effects, and in the management of chronic and severe pain. They have also been used for non-medicinal and recreational purposes to produce feelings of relaxation, euphoria and well-being. Over the last decade, the emergence of an illegal market in new synthetic opioids has become a major global public health issue, associated with a substantial increase in unintentional overdoses and drug-related deaths. Synthetic opioids include fentanyl, its analogues and emerging non-fentanyl opioids. Their popularity relates to changes in criminal markets, pricing, potency, availability compared to classic opioids, ease of transport and use, rapid effect and lack of detection by conventional testing technologies. This article expands on our previous review on new psychoactive substances. We now provide a more in-depth review on synthetic opioids and explore the current challenges faced by people who use drugs, healthcare professionals, and global public health systems.