Opioid Overdose

Opioid Overdose: What You Should Know

As the opioid epidemic spreads throughout the United States, it is important to understand the implications of opioid overdose. Every day, more than 130 people in the US die after overdosing on one type of opioid or another. Learning more about the causes and types of opioid overdose, as well as recognizing the warning signs, can help save lives.

Causes of Opioid Overdose

Opioid overdose can occur when the drug is taken in excess of what the body can tolerate. This can happen when the drug is taken more often or at higher doses than prescribed. In some cases, opioids can be tremendously powerful, even at low doses, and an overdose can occur without warning.

An overdose can also occur when a person mixes opioids with other drugs, such as alcohol or street drugs. This increases the risk of an overdose by altering how opioids interact with the body. For instance, mixing alcohol and opioids can make an overdose more likely because both of these substances slow breathing.

Types of Opioid Overdose

There are two major types of opioid overdose: respiratory depression overdose and non-respiratory overdose.

  • Respiratory depression overdose is the most common and most fatal type of an overdose. This type of overdose occurs when the opioid drug slows respiratory function, leading to extremely shallow or stopped breathing. This will require immediate emergency care.
  • Non-respiratory overdose is less common and can be caused by an opioid that excessively binds to opioid receptors outside of the brain and lungs. Symptoms usually include nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and pupil dilation.

Signs and Symptoms

Opioid overdose can be hard to identify without medical intervention and can be fatal if left untreated. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of an overdose as soon as possible. Some of the most common signs of an opioid overdose include:

  • Extremely small or pinpoint pupils
  • Extremely slow or shallow breathing
  • Limp body
  • Extreme confusion
  • Gurgling or choking sounds

Treatment for Opioid Overdose

If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose of opioids, call 911 immediately. The most effective treatment for an opioid overdose is the opioid antagonist naloxone, also known as Narcan. This drug quickly reverses the effects of an overdose and can be given through the nose or as an injection. It is important to note that naloxone will not reverse any other type of overdose, such as an overdose of alcohol or other drugs.

If you or someone you know is actively abusing opioids, seek professional help. Treatment options, such as substance abuse therapy and medication-assisted treatment, can help people overcome their addiction and live healthier lives.