Opioid Overdose Prevention

Since the 1990s, more than 645,000 people have died from both synthetic and commonly prescribed opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 109,680 people died from opioid overdose in 2022. Despite this ongoing crisis, many people may not know how to identify a drug overdose or how to prevent one. If you or a loved one struggles with opioid addiction, the most important thing to remember is that recovery is possible. 

With the right support and evidence-based treatment, you can conquer substance use dependency and keep yourself and your loved ones safe from lethal overdose. Use this comprehensive guide to recognize the signs of overdose and implement proactive measures to avoid life-threatening consequences.

Examples of Opioids

Opioids, which are sometimes called opiates, are derived from the opium poppy plant. This class of drugs comes in many different forms, including prescription and illegal substances, that can cause addiction, including:

  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Morphine
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Heroin
  • Codeine
  • Tramadol

What Is an Opioid Overdose?

An opioid overdose can occur when an individual consumes an excessive amount of opioids or a combination of opioids and another substance or drug, such as alcohol or prescription medications. This combination can create toxic and life-threatening effects. Because opioids are highly addictive, users can develop a tolerance. Individuals with high tolerance levels may need to consume a higher dose to achieve the same effects, often leading to unintentional overdose.

A high amount of opioids can impair the body and brain’s ability to function correctly. This can sometimes cause slow breathing or a decrease in oxygen due to the drug’s sedating effect, leading to significant risk. Although not all overdoses are fatal, they can result in death if not treated immediately. 

Recognizing the Signs of an Opioid Overdose

Many general overdose symptoms overlap with opioid overdoses. A person experiencing an opioid overdose or overmedication that can lead to an overdose may have the following signs:

  • Hallucinations
  • Slowed breathing
  • Confusion, slowed speech
  • Snoring or rattling sounds when breathing
  • Choking or gurgling
  • Accelerated heart rate or very slowed heart rate
  • Unresponsiveness to loud noises
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Inability to speak
  • Body seizures
  • Paranoid behavior
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Pale skin
  • Blue skin, lips or fingernails
  • Extremely small or “pinpoint” pupils

Factors That Increase the Risk of an Opioid Overdose

Certain risk factors can make an individual more likely to experience a drug overdose. It’s important to know that you or a loved one may be at risk of an opioid overdose if you:

  • Have a history of overdoses.
  • Take opioids by injection.
  • Combine opioids with other substances, such as alcohol or other drugs.
  • Struggle with opioid use disorder.
  • Have a chronic medical condition that impairs breathing, such as asthma or respiratory illness.
  • Use opioids without a prescription.
  • Fail to follow opioid prescription instructions.
  • Resume opioid use after an extended period of non-use.
  • Consume high prescribed doses of opioids, such as 100 mg or more.

How to Prevent Opioid Overdose 

Opioid overdoses are preventable. Knowing these harm reduction strategies can save your life or your loved one’s life:

  • Avoid mixing substances: Mixing opioids with pain medications, alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal drugs can increase one’s risk of overdose. This includes sleeping pills or anxiety medication. 
  • Test your substances: If you use opioids that are not prescribed by a doctor, always test your substances with very small amounts. Wait a few minutes to see how your body reacts. Fentanyl acts quickly and differently on individuals depending on their tolerance and dose, and it can significantly increase your risk of fatal overdose. Spacing out doses can help reduce risk.
  • Try not to use alone: If you struggle with opioid addiction, it’s important to avoid using it alone or locking the door to the room you’re in. Make sure there is always someone nearby and alert who can help you in the event of an overdose. If you have no one around, call the Never Use Alone hotline at 800-484-3731. An operator from the overdose prevention hotline will stay on the line with you and send emergency services to your location if you do not respond.
  • Carry naloxone: If you or someone you know uses opioids, carrying medications like naloxone (known as Narcan) can save a life. Administering this medication can reverse the effects of opiates in the body and restore breathing, preventing a fatal overdose. If you’re using alone, keep naloxone out and visible in case of an accidental overdose. Whoever finds you can administer it and save your life.
  • Use slow and low: Using opioids after a period of reducing your dose or abstaining from the drug entirely can lead to overdose. A fatal overdose can occur even after a few days of not using. When using a new supply or changing your dose, be extremely careful and start with less. If you inject opioids, remember that it carries the highest risk for overdose, and it can even occur before an individual has finished injecting the substance.  

Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs

The most effective way to prevent a serious or fatal opioid overdose is to undergo addiction treatment. When it comes to opioid addiction, the longer you use, the higher your risk for overdoes gets. Addiction is a complex condition that creates unique obstacles for every individual it affects. 

It’s normal for people to feel guilt, fear or shame about seeking help, even if they’ve come close to an overdose or experienced one. However, you are not alone. There are many dedicated, caring professionals waiting to help you on the road to recovery, no matter what challenges lie ahead.

Overcoming substance use disorder is challenging, but the right treatment program will help you reach your goals through understanding and a judgment-free environment. There are many different treatment strategies to help you overcome opioid addiction or dependence. Your decision to enter treatment for or inform a loved one about addiction recovery can improve your health, close relationships and overall quality of life.

Seek Supportive, Compassionate Care With Hope For Tomorrow

Opioid addiction can have life-threatening consequences for you or someone you love. At Hope for Tomorrow, we know that seeking help is not easy. We’re here to help you or your loved one feel supported every step of the way through the recovery journey. We offer individualized treatment programs that cater to your specific needs and goals. Our compassionate experts provide various therapies, medication assistance and evidence-based treatment to help you overcome opioid addiction.

Most importantly, we strive to create a comfortable environment where you can feel supported without fear of judgment. If you or your loved one are ready to let us lift you up through the challenges of addiction recovery, contact us today