Author: John Carter

Taking Action: How to Intervene During an Overdose

how to help someone who overdosed

The main cause of death from an opioid overdose is respiratory failure (you stop breathing). This happens because the opioids negatively affect the part of your brain that’s responsible for breathing. Naloxone (Narcan) is the main emergency treatment for opioid overdose. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which means it attaches to opioid receptors in your body and reverses and blocks the effects of opioids already in your system.

If you think someone you love may be using or misusing opioids, talk to your loved one about the dangers of opioids and try to connect them to medical resources. While North America currently has the highest rate of opioid overdoses in the world, opioid overdose continues to be a global issue. Join us as an IOAD partner by using your voice and platforms to spread messages about ending overdose. Check out our partner toolkit which includes free resources such as key IOAD messages, social media content, and patient and provider educational materials, to spread the word about ending overdose. Substance use disorders, like opioid use disorder (OUD), have significantly impacted communities across America. Prevention activities help educate and support individuals, families, and communities and are critical for maintaining both individual and community health.

An opioid overdose happens when opioids negatively affect the part of your brain that regulates breathing, resulting in ineffective breathing. A person experiencing an opioid overdose needs naloxone and immediate medical care to prevent death. Opioid overdoses are medical emergencies that require quick diagnosis and treatment. Because of this, first responders and people who are trained to administer naloxone (Narcan®) mainly rely on symptoms and personal history to diagnose them. As the person experiencing an overdose is usually unconscious, providers rely on bystanders or loved ones to tell them if the person has a history of substance use. They may also find items or substances related to the overdose near the person.

Opioid use can cause you to have shallow breaths and/or a slower rate of breathing (respiratory depression) and can lead to respiratory failure. If you aren’t able to breathe in enough oxygen, oxygen levels in your blood start to decrease, causing your skin, lips and fingers to turn blue (cyanosis). This lack of oxygen can also cause damage to your brain, heart and other organs. In most cases, if you’re not breathing again within three to five minutes, this lack of oxygen leads to death.

Using unregulated opioids increases someone’s chances of overdose and death from overdose. This rise is due to the increased use of prescription narcotics as pain medication and the contamination of nonmedical opioids and other substances with highly potent opioids like fentanyl. People experiencing an opioid overdose need naloxone (commonly known by the brand name Narcan®).

Too often, drug overdose deaths occur because a person is hesitant to call an ambulance due to a fear of police involvement. Have enacted Good Samaritan Laws to encourage seeking medical help. Saving someone from an opiate overdose, however, requires quick reaction. Since both of these opiates have a depressant effect, the same intervention tactics are applicable in the event of an overdose. While policymakers and health officials search for solutions, it’s important to realize that we all possess the power to help save lives. Awareness is the key to survival during most medical emergencies; that’s certainly true in the case of a drug overdose.

Stop Overdose

It can be difficult to prevent an opioid overdose because you may not know the potency of the substances you’re using. Naloxone is a medication that reverses the effects of opioids and can return normal breathing to a person who has difficulty breathing or who’s stopped breathing due to an opioid overdose. An overdose happens when your body is overwhelmed by the amount of toxic substances in your system. These substances can be medications, alcohol, other drugs or a combination of each. For every overdose that results in death, there are many more nonfatal overdoses, each one with its own emotional and economic toll. OUD and overdose deaths continue to be a major public health concern in the United States, but they are preventable.

  1. They may perform other forms of medical care other than naloxone, such as intubation to help with breathing.
  2. The main cause of death from an opioid overdose is respiratory failure (you stop breathing).
  3. Prescription opioids are involved in about 25% of all opioid overdose deaths.
  4. For every overdose that results in death, there are many more nonfatal overdoses, each one with its own emotional and economic toll.
  5. When a benzo or opioid overdose occurs, the victim runs a significant risk of respiratory failure, which could lead to a coma, permanent brain damage and death.
  6. Naloxone (Narcan) is the main emergency treatment for opioid overdose.

Learn more about what options are available and how to support loved ones on their recovery journey. Naloxone is a safe medication that can reverse an overdose from opioids, including heroin and fentanyl. Prevent and ProtectHelp for people to gain access to naloxone. Also provides tools for organizations conducting overdose prevention and naloxone advocacy, outreach, and communication campaigns.

Naloxone can reverse the effects of an overdose if it’s given to the person quickly. The person will still need medical attention after the administration of naloxone. OUD significantly contributes to overdose deaths among people who use illegal opioids or misuse prescription opioids.

Anatomy of an Overdose

Narcotics are a class of drugs that are chemicals — natural or synthetic — that interact with nerve cells and have the potential to reduce pain. Opiates occur in nature, though they can still be very dangerous in their purified and concentrated forms. You can get naloxone for free through discrete harm reduction programs like NEXT Distro or from a healthcare provider or pharmacy. Police officers, emergency medical technicians and first responders carry and have training on how to give naloxone. In most communities, any person can get and carry naloxone on them, not just medical professionals.

If first responders suspect an opioid overdose, they’ll administer naloxone, a medication that treats opioid overdose. If the person’s symptoms improve with naloxone, it means they’ve experienced an opioid overdose. If the naloxone has no effect on them, their symptoms are due to something else. Using any kind of opioid has the potential to result in opioid overdose, whether it’s a prescription or nonprescription opioid. About 75% of opioid overdoses are due to nonmedical use of synthetic opioids — mainly forms of nonmedical fentanyl. An opioid overdose happens when opioids excessively stimulate the part of your brain that regulates breathing.

how to help someone who overdosed

Because of this, it’s essential to call 911 for the person so they can get immediate medical care. Anyone who uses opioids could potentially experience an opioid overdose. Overdoses can happen to people during their first time using opioids, to people who’ve taken them multiple times or to people who have opioid use disorder. An opioid overdose happens when opioid use causes respiratory depression, which can lead to respiratory failure and death.

Signs and Symptoms by Drug

If you or someone you know uses opioids, it’s important to carry naloxone in case of an overdose. If you or a loved one has opioid use disorder, talk to a healthcare provider as soon as possible. A trained provider can help guide you to the treatment you need. Opioid use disorder is a medical condition — it requires care just like any other condition.

Opioid Overdose Prevention Saves Lives

This leads to respiratory depression (ineffective breathing) and can cause death if it isn’t treated in time. It’s important to note that the effects of naloxone only work for 30 to 90 minutes, but after that time, a person can overdose again if opioids are still in their system. A person can also overdose within that timeframe if they have a substantially large amount of opioids in their system. That’s why it’s important to get help from emergency services and make sure they’re not alone even if they respond well to the first dose of naloxone. Stigma or the fear of stigma may stop someone from sharing their health condition with partners or family members.

Administer naloxone (Narcan) if you have it available

If you believe someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning or stimulant overdose, call 911 immediately. If you’d like to learn more about helping drug addicts, check out our in-depth interview with Catherine Boswell, PhD. If you have depression or suicidal thoughts, contact your doctor right away.