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Overdose Information Guide: How to Recognize and Prevent Opioid Overdoses

Overdoses are common in the U.S., with approximately 107,622 people dying from a drug overdose in 2021. Opioid overdoses are on the rise and account for most of those deaths, with casualties increasing to 80,816 that same year

Despite their prevalence, overdoses remain a mystery for many. Why are they so common? What can be done to prevent them? And what should you do when faced with an emergency overdose situation? 

Below, we provide a comprehensive overdose information guide to help you recognize the signs of an overdose and take proactive measures to keep friends and family safe. 

What Is an Overdose?

An overdose happens when a person takes an excessive amount of substances, and those substances interfere with the body and brain’s ability to function. Overdoses can be fatal—136 Americans die from opioid overdoses every day—but not all overdoses are life-threatening or result in death. However, you should always take an overdose seriously, and if you suspect you or someone else has overdosed, seek immediate medical attention. 

During an overdose, a person may experience: 

  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoid behavior
  • Body seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsiveness to loud noises
  • Choking and gurgling sounds

What Is an Opioid Overdose?

An opioid overdose occurs when someone consumes a toxic amount of an opioid or a toxic combination of an opioid and another drug. If not treated immediately, an opioid overdose can be fatal.

Opioids include:

  • Heroin
  • Synthetic opioids like fentanyl
  • Prescription pain relievers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine

What makes these drugs dangerous is that they are highly addictive, which can cause people to develop a tolerance to them. When you have a high tolerance level, you need a higher dose to achieve the same effect, resulting in an increased risk of overdose.

When misused, opioids can cause breathing to slow, decreasing the amount of oxygen in the body. Many of the symptoms associated with general overdoses apply to opioid overdoses, too. However, someone experiencing an opioid overdose might also have:

  • Blue lips or fingernails
  • Limp body
  • Inability to speak
  • Pale face
  • Inability to wake up

Note that overdoses can also occur if you mix opioids with other substances, such as alcohol or prescription medication. For example, if you combine opioids with benzodiazepines, which are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, this can suppress your breathing and disrupt cognitive function.  

Risk Factors of an Opioid Overdose

If you are worried that you or a loved one is at risk of an opioid overdose, it is important to take preventative measures before it is too late. 

You might be at risk of an opioid overdose if you:

  • Have an opioid use disorder
  • Combine opioids with other substances
  • Have a chronic medical condition (e.g., HIV or lung disease)
  • Use opioids without a prescription
  • Fail to follow prescription instructions
  • Have a history of overdoses

Statistics on Opioid Overdoses

In 2021, opioids were responsible for 75.4% of overdose deaths in the United States. It is estimated that seven out of 10 opioid overdose victims in 2021 were male. 

Heroin is responsible for a sizable portion of opioid deaths, claiming 9,173 victims in 2021. The good news is that the trend has been on a downward trajectory since it peaked in 2017 at 15,482 deaths. 

However, fentanyl overdose deaths have increased over the last few years, especially among adolescents. In 2021, fentanyl was involved in 77.14% of adolescent overdose deaths. 

The important thing to remember is that opioid addiction recovery is possible with the right prescribed medicine and support services. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help minimize opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. 

Opioid Overdose Prevention Tips

Opioid overdoses are preventable, and knowing what to do in an overdose situation can keep you and your loved ones safe. Always follow the instructions given by your healthcare provider. 

This means: 

  • Not mixing pain medications with sleeping pills or alcohol
  • Storing medications in a safe area to prevent others from accessing them
  • Taking only the provider-prescribed amount 
  • Consulting your provider immediately if you misuse your medication
  • Disposing of unused medications safely    

Call emergency responders immediately if you recognize that a loved one is experiencing an overdose. Next, lie the person on their side to prevent them from choking, and keep them awake. 

If the person shows no signs of breathing, start CPR. You can also administer naloxone (NARCAN®)—a medication that reverses the effects of an overdose. 

Finally, stay with the person until emergency response units arrive. Remember, action is critical, so do not delay.  

Reach Out to MedMark Treatment Centers for Support

Use this overdose information guide as a resource to protect yourself and your loved ones from an overdose. If you or anyone you know needs treatment for opioid use disorder, MedMark Treatment Centers is here to help. 

Our opioid treatment services are evidence-based, using proven methods that can help people minimize their dependence on substances. There is also the option of walk-in treatment for immediate assistance. 

Contact us for questions about the recovery process. 

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