Drug and Alcohol - Opioid Addiction

Opioid Overdose: What They Look Like & What to Do if Someone Overdoses on Opioids

What Does an Opioid Overdose Look Like?

Opioid overdose is frightening … and life-threatening. Learn the signs, symptoms, and how to help a loved one during an opioid overdose.

Witnessing an opioid overdose can be a terrifying thing.

Recognizing the signs of overdose is crucial for making quick decisions and taking the most informed, impactful action to assist a friend, loved one, or stranger who is overdosing.

Opioids are a dangerous and addictive class of drugs, and while detox and professional care are necessary to overcome an addiction to these substances, effectively identifying overdose can help individuals prepare to help a loved one survive an overdose and begin taking the necessary steps for addiction treatment and a healthy, sober future. 

Opioid Overdose: The Biggest Danger of Opioid Abuse

Opioids are incredibly dangerous and come in a variety of forms. While there are medical uses for some opioids — usually as prescription pain relievers — they are still highly addictive and can bring about a plethora of mind-altering effects.

Oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and the incredibly potent fentanyl are all examples of prescription opioids that have achieved dangerous recreational use outside of a medical setting.

Additionally, there are also wholly illicit, non-prescription opioids such as heroin that are just as dangerous. 

Opioids can be either natural, semi-synthetic, or wholly synthetic. However, just because something is considered “natural” does not mean that it is without danger. Heroin is one “natural” opioid derived from the seeds of the poppy flower, with no medical value and incredibly destructive potential. 

Opioids are also incredibly addictive, and dependence and addiction can set in after very few uses. Between the quick onset of addiction and the intense and destructive effects opioids have on the body, overdose is an unfortunately common result of opioid abuse.

Opioid overdoses have steadily increased with each passing year, affecting more and more people at an alarming rate and culminating in over 75,000 overdose deaths in the year between April 2020 and April 2021.

However, this number doesn't reflect those who suffered from overdose but were able to receive help and survive or the other ways in which opioids impact one's health and life. 

Identifying an Opioid Overdose

Being able to quickly identify the signs of an opioid overdose can be the difference between life and death. There are a number of crucial signs to check for to identify an overdose. Some of these include:

  • Face and skin appear flush or pale

  • Skin feels clammy

  • Bodies go limp or are otherwise unable to move or support themselves

  • Lips and fingernails have a blueish tint

  • Gurgling, hacking, or vomiting

  • Unresponsiveness to external stimuli, such as when verbally addressed or touched

  • Unable to wake up

  • Slowed or strained breathing

  • Slowed heartbeat

An individual does not necessarily have to exhibit all of these symptoms to be suffering from an overdose. Overdoses are a very time-sensitive and dangerous occurrence, and if one suspects an overdose and observes any of these symptoms, it is important to call emergency services immediately to provide the best and most educated help to those suffering from an overdose.

Remaining on the scene and relaying observable symptoms to emergency personnel while providing an address, landmarks, and other directions to the site where an overdosed individual can be found is instrumental in getting the right help the fastest. 

Navigating an Overdose

Identifying the signs of an opioid overdose and contacting emergency services is just the first step, and there may be other actions required to help an individual through such a dangerous time.

The first and most important part of supporting someone through an overdose is remaining calm. Keeping a clear mind is necessary to accurately identify symptoms and make the most informed decisions for their health. Taking a deep breath and calming one's own anxieties or emotional responses can allow the best care possible. 

Clearing obstructions in the mouth and throat and turning an individual on their side can create a clear airway for breathing, especially if one has vomited or has otherwise compromised breathing capabilities. CPR may also be necessary and locating a trained individual to perform CPR is instrumental. 

If a friend or family member is struggling with addiction to opioids, keeping naloxone, or Narcan, can be a life-saving measure. Administering Narcan can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, so keeping it accessible can make all the difference in an overdose situation.

However, while Narcan can reverse these effects, professional detox and rehab are still necessary to prevent future overdoses and the myriad of other destructive effects of opioids from continuing to impact a loved one's life. 

What Happens During an Opioid Overdose?

An opioid overdose occurs when a person takes more of the drug than their body can manage to process, often leading to severe respiratory depression and, in some cases, death. Opioid overdoses can be problematic for people who are prescribed opioids or abusing them recreationally. It is important to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose so that medical attention can be sought quickly and the individual’s life can be saved.

The most common signs of an opioid overdose include:

  • Slow or shallow breathing, often appearing to stop completely

  • Extremely small pupils sometimes referred to as pinpoint pupils

  • Bluish tint on the person's skin, especially around their lips and fingers

  • Loss of consciousness or an inability to wake up

  • Choking or gurgling noises

It is important to act quickly if you notice any of these signs as time is of the essence. Opioid overdoses can be reversed using an injection called naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan. Naloxone can be administered in a pinch and has been successful in saving thousands of people from opioid overdose.

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, there is help available. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration maintains a toll-free number that can be called to speak with someone about treatment options. In addition, many community organizations offer support groups for those battling addiction and their families.

What Should You Do if Someone Overdoses on Opioids?

If someone you know has overdosed on opioids, it's important to act fast in order to prevent further harm. The most immediate step you can take is to call 911 and explain the situation. You should also stay with the person until help arrives and make sure that their airway remains open. Additionally, if there are any medication containers or needles around, make sure to tell the medical personnel about them.

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to help someone overdosing on opioids:

Step One: Try to Wake Them Up

If the person appears to be in a deep sleep, try calling their name and gently shaking them. Check for signs of breathing or pulse. If you can't detect either, call 911 immediately.

Step Two: Administer Naloxone if Available

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that reverses the effects of opioids on the brain and body. It is available over-the-counter in some states, so if you know someone who uses opioids, it's a good idea to carry a naloxone kit with you. If you have one, administer the medication according to the instructions on the package.

Step Three: Monitor Their Breathing

If the person has not regained consciousness, it's important to monitor their breathing. Check for slow and shallow breaths or any signs of choking. If the person is not breathing normally, begin CPR if you know how to do so.

Step Four: Put Them in the Recovery Position

If the person is conscious and breathing, place them in the recovery position. This helps to ensure that their airways remain open. Place one hand on either side of their head, then carefully roll them onto one side and support them with your hands.

Step Five: Call 911 Immediately

Once you have taken these steps, call 911 immediately for medical help. The sooner you get help, the better the outcome will be for the person who has overdosed.

Step Six: Remain with the Person Until Help Arrives

Once help has been called, stay with the person until medical professionals arrive and take over. Make sure to alert the medical personnel about any medications or drugs that may have been involved in the overdose.

It's also important to remember that an opioid overdose is a medical emergency and requires immediate help. If you ever find yourself in a situation like this, don't hesitate to call 911 for assistance. With proper care, many lives can be saved.

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What if I Have Drugs on Me? Should I Be Afraid to Call First Responders?

Good Samaritan Laws have been put in place in many states to protect those who call for help during an overdose. These laws provide immunity from prosecution for minor drug possession charges when someone calls 911 and provides assistance while the person is overdosing.

It's important to note, however, that some states do not offer these protections, so it's best to research your state's laws on this matter before taking action.

Under no circumstances should you be afraid to call for help during an overdose emergency. The priority should always be the well-being of those in danger, and it is important to remember that lives can be saved if help is called quickly.

Who Is at Risk for an Opioid Overdose?

Anyone who uses opioids can be at risk of an opioid overdose, including those taking prescription medications for pain relief and those using opioids recreationally. Opioid overdoses are also more likely to occur in people who have been prescribed high doses of opioids or take multiple drugs at the same time.

It is important to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose in order to get help quickly. This can be the difference between life and death for someone who is in danger of overdosing. It's also important to remember that overdoses can happen even when taking opioids as prescribed by a doctor, so it's important to always monitor your use and take all safety precautions.

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Who Is Likely to Witness an Opioid Overdose?

In many cases, friends and family members are the first people to witness an opioid overdose. It is important for them to know what to do if they find themselves in this situation. As mentioned previously, calling 911 immediately is the best course of action and can help save lives.

People who use opioids are also likely to witness an opioid overdose. They should also know the steps to take if they witness an overdose and should never be afraid to call for help.

It is also important for those close to someone who uses opioids to be aware of the signs of an overdose and carry naloxone if available. Having naloxone on hand can help reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and save someone's life.

Additionally, it is important to remember that addiction is a chronic disease that requires professional treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, there are resources available to help. Treatment centers can provide the necessary medical and psychological care to help those who are fighting addiction get back on their feet. With the right support, people struggling with opioid addiction can overcome it and lead healthy lives.

Can Opioid Overdoses Be Prevented?

The best way to prevent opioid overdoses is to avoid taking opioids altogether, particularly when they are not prescribed by a doctor.

If you are prescribed opioids for pain relief, it's important to take them as directed and never increase the dosage without consulting your doctor. Additionally, be sure to monitor your use closely and keep track of how many pills you have taken.

It is also important to be aware of the risks associated with mixing opioids with other drugs, alcohol, and sedatives. This can increase the risk of an overdose and should be avoided at all costs.

Finally, it's always a good idea to carry a naloxone kit in case of an emergency and know what to do if you witness an overdose. These steps can help save lives and make sure that those in danger get the medical attention they need quickly.

Overall, it is important to remember that opioid overdoses are a serious medical emergency and should not be taken lightly. With proper knowledge and preparation, opioid overdoses can be prevented and people's lives can be saved.

Don't Risk Opioid Overdose. Start a Recovery Journey with The Edge Treatment Center

Overdoses are a pivotal point in one's life and can be the time when one realizes the need for change. Opioid rehab can be difficult, but it’s also transformative. It is never too late, nor is there anyone who is too far gone to pursue an effective recovery program.

There is nothing easy about overcoming an addiction to opioids, but a dedicated recovery program can provide the necessary education and safe, sober community to prevent future overdose and promote a healthy, sober life ahead.

Opioid addiction presents numerous dangers to your health and overdosing on opioids can be life-threatening. The best way to overcome and prevent overdose is to cease the use of opioids with the help of a dedicated recovery program.

At The Edge Treatment Center, we are prepared to design a recovery plan that is right for you to take that important first step toward a sober life. We offer an array of programs and personalized approaches that allow us to guide you through detox and treatment with continued aftercare support.

For more information on how we can create a plan for you, contact us today.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

Opioid Addiction

July 7, 2022