Opioid Overdose: What Happens and What to Do

The largest risks that come with using opioids are addiction and overdose. An overdose occurs when the body has received too much of a substance or a combination of substances. An opioid overdose can be fatal, which makes it important for all individuals to know the signs of one and what to do if it happens.

What Happens During an Opioid Overdose?

Opioid overdose can occur at any time, even if the opioids are being used as directed and as prescribed. Doctors can accidentally over-prescribe medications or the body can have a reaction that wasn’t expected.

Opioids are a depressant, meaning they slow down the central nervous system. This is how opioids and benzodiazepines can be effective in helping the symptoms associated with anxiety. However, if too many opioids are taken, the body can become so depressed that the brain stops working its essential functions — such as breathing and heart activity — which leads to coma or death.

Signs and Symptoms of an Opioid Overdose

There can be many signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose. Some of the major key symptoms to look out for include:

  • Face is extremely pale and/or feels clammy to the touch
  • Body begins to go limp
  • Fingernails and/or lips have a purple or blue color
  • Vomiting and/or gurgling noises
  • Unable to speak or respond
  • Slow breathing and slow heart rate

What to Do During an Opioid Overdose

If you think an individual is having an opioid overdose, follow these steps:

  • Call 911. The sooner first responders show up, the better the chances are of the individual surviving the opioid overdose. Call 911 as soon as possible before following any other steps.
  • Administer Narcan or Naloxone. These medications work by stopping an opioid overdose. They were designed to be easy to use, available over-the-counter at most major drug stores and are covered by most insurance. If there are opioids in your home, there should also be Narcan or Naloxone.
  • Lay the person on their side. Making sure the person is on their side helps prevent choking, especially if they are vomiting.
  • Try to keep them awake and breathing. Do your best to help the individual stay awake and breathing by staying with them until emergency personnel arrives.

What Makes an Individual More Prone to an Opioid Overdose?

Any individual who uses opioids is exposing themselves to the risk of an opioid overdose. Some factors may further increase risk, such as:

  • Combining opioids with alcohol or certain other drugs
  • Taking high daily doses of prescription opioids
  • Taking more opioids than prescribed
  • Taking illicit or illegal opioids, like heroin or illicitly-manufactured fentanyl, that could possibly contain unknown or harmful substances
    Certain medical conditions, such as sleep apnea, or reduced kidney or liver function
  • Age greater than 65 years old

Opioid Overdose Statistics

Opioid overdoses are on the rise, which makes knowing what to do during an overdose an extremely important part of using opioids.

  • From 1999 to 2017, more than 700,000 people have died from a drug overdose.
  • Approximately 68% of the more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid.
  • In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl) was 6 times higher than in 1999.
  • On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

Preventing an Opioid Overdose

The easiest way to prevent an overdose is to abstain from opioids. However, many individuals who require opioid prescriptions for various reasons might not be able to do this. In that case, it is important to keep the risk of an overdose as low as possible by:

  • Take your medicine exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Never mix pain medicines with alcohol, sleeping pills, or illegal substances
  • Store medicine safely where children or pets can’t reach it.
  • Dispose of unused medicine

Another way to prevent opioid overdoses is to raise awareness. Programs like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention work to do this by:

  • Equipping states with resources, improving data collection, and supporting the use of evidence-based prevention strategies.
  • Improving data quality and tracking trends to better understand and respond to the epidemic.
  • Collecting and analyzing data on opioid-related overdoses to better identify areas that need assistance and to evaluate prevention efforts.
  • Supporting healthcare providers and health systems with data, tools, and guidance for evidence-based decision-making to improve opioid prescribing and patient safety.
  • Partnering with public safety officials, including law enforcement, to address the growing illicit opioid problem.
  • Encouraging consumers to make safe choices about opioids and raising awareness about prescription opioid misuse and overdose.

About Cliffside Malibu

An opioid overdose is fatal, leaving millions of people missing family members, loved ones and members of their community. Don’t become another statistic by waiting for an opioid overdose to happen — opioid addiction is treatable, and help is possible.

Since no two addictions are the same, Cliffside Malibu offers an individualized treatment plan for every client. We are committed to providing evidence-based treatment through a continuum of care model including medically supervised detox, residential treatment, day treatment, and outpatient services. Our program also includes family therapy and holistic therapy, as well. Whether an individual is suffering from substance abuse and/or alcohol addiction, our programs are structured to create a supportive environment where healing can begin.

In addition to world-class treatment, Cliffside Malibu offers luxury accommodations, a serene environment, five-star dining, and plentiful amenities. We understand that addiction treatment is a rigorous process. Therefore, we provide for your comfort and relaxation at every turn, allowing you to rejuvenate, and meet the demands of treatment with your greatest energy and attention.

For more information on Cliffside Malibu, visit cliffsidemalibu.com