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Opioid Overdose: How to Spot an Overdose & What to do

Authored by Granite Recovery Centers    Reviewed by James Gamache    Last Updated: October 4th, 2021


James Gamache Medical Reviewer
Jim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and Licensed Masters Level Addictions Counselor (MLADC). He has been working in the field of mental health/addiction treatment since 1995. Jim earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from Springfield College in 2000, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University in 2002. In 2002 Jim was hired by the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester holding the position of Clinical Case Manager. From 2004-2019, Jim was employed at WestBridge Inc. During his time at WestBridge, Jim held the following positions; Clinician, Team Leader, Director, & Chief Operations Officer. In 2019 Jim transitioned employment to GateHouse Treatment Center as the Clinical Director for 10 months. In October of 2020 Jim transitioned to Granite Recovery Centers and is currently serving as the Senior VP of Clinical Services and Quality Assurance.

Spotting an overdose could save a person’s life. The National Institute of Health reports that drug overdose is the number one cause of accidental death in the U.S. There are 1000 emergency department visits daily related to the misuse of opioids.

What Are Opioids?

Opiates are drugs that act on the central nervous system and slow down the activity of the brain and body. They are commonly used to relieve pain. However, opioids are illegally grown and obtained every day.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses the term “opioids” to describe many drugs, like heroin, morphine, codeine, hydromorphone, Fentanyl, and oxycodone. Opioids that can be found on the street include heroin, synthetic opioids like Fentanyl and Carfentanil, and prescription pain pills. Two of the most common synthetic opioids are Fentanyl and Carfentanil.

The National Drug Enforcement Agency reports that Fentanyl is made in Mexico, and it can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is used to treat people who have chronic pain from severe conditions. The DEA reports that Fentanyl is usually mixed with heroin or substituted for heroin, leading to overdose deaths.

Carfentanil is also regularly used on the street to make the Fentanyl more potent and to increase profits of illegal manufacturers. A shocking warning to the public was released by the DEA about Cartenafil (an elephant tranquilizer 100 times stronger than Fentanyl) and its potential for overdose; only a two milligram amount of it taken or absorbed through the fingertips can lead to overdose.

These dangerous drugs can quickly wreak havoc on the system and lead to incapacitation if taken in high amounts. There are all types of prescription opioids that are sold in America over and under the table. The kind of synthetic opioid(s), prescription drug(s) used, and how much is taken determine how long the effects last.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that people can crush pills or open capsules, dissolve the powder in water, shoot it up, or inhale the powder to get high and experience euphoric sensations. The effects of opioids can last from a few hours to a day or more, depending on the drug and whether it was taken with other drugs.

Spotting Someone Having an Opioid Overdose

Opioid Overdose

Opioid overdoses can be different for each person, but they are life-threatening for all. The signs and symptoms of an overdose in each case depend on the type(s) of opioid used, how much is used, and the person who is overdosing. If users have more of the drug in their system than they can handle, an opioid overdose can occur.

The chances of an overdose increase if the person is taking other drugs at the same time. Combinations of illegal drugs can quickly result in a lethal cocktail that quickly leads to overdose. The Mayo Clinic reports that prescription and illegal opioids can last longer in the system if they are taken with other drugs (alcohol, sedatives, or tranquilizers), and the risk of overdose that leads to death is increased.

If you believe that someone may have overdosed off of an opioid or a combination of drugs, you should contact medical personnel immediately. It is highly possible that, if the individual is exhibiting adverse symptoms, the user is overdosing.

Possible Signs and Symptoms of an Opioid Overdose:

Symptoms of an overdose may be revealed in seconds, minutes, or may take longer to develop. The consequences of it hugely depend on what was taken, how much, and by whom. The Center for Disease Control reports that some common symptoms of overdose include:

  • Collapse
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Paleness
  • Blue fingernails
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Gulping for air
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma or deep sleep
  • Limp body
  • Seizure

These conditions may last for a short time or longer. Some may even lead to death. Anyone who is having an opioid overdose requires immediate medical attention.

How to Help Someone Experiencing Opioid Overdose

The best thing to do for anyone who has a drug overdose is to call 911 right away. Give the emergency personnel the user’s name and address so that the first responders can come get that person safely. This is especially important if the user is unconscious or not breathing.

The NIDA states that medical personnel will administer naloxone to treat the opioid overdose. It works by binding to the opioid receptors in the body to block the effects of opioids in the person’s system. Connecting a friend or loved one to help and medication can make the difference whether they survive or not.

If a user is overdosing, unconscious or having trouble breathing, call 911 right away. The New York Department of Health gives further guidance on what to do:

  1. Make sure they aren’t in a dangerous place (like a bathtub, pool, or in the street) if you discover something has happened. If they are, try to move them so they aren’t in danger while you wait for help to arrive.
  2. Call 911 immediately, and tell them the person is having a drug overdose. If you have naloxone, administer it.
  3. If the person is still conscious and awake, keep talking to them. Have them lie on their side with their head lower than their body until help arrives.
  4. If the person is unconscious or has stopped breathing, perform CPR.
  5. If you can, stay with the person and comfort them until help arrives. Be sure to let emergency responders know that they are overdosing on narcotics like opioids. Ask emergency personnel if they can give you something to keep them comfortable until someone comes to help.
  6. Pass on all vital information to emergency personnel when they arrive such as what kind of illegal drugs were used (such as heroin), prescription pills (like Vicodin), amphetamines (like Adderall), or synthetic substances (like bath salts). If you know the number of pills they took, the size of bags used to hold the drug, and the time it may have happened, it can truly aid medical professionals in helping your friend or loved one faster and more efficiently. Avoid touching any objects that may have traces of opiates on them as you could expose yourself.

Many people do not have access to Naloxone, so medical professionals will often need to bring it to help the person having an overdose. It may be injected or sprayed into the nasal cavity to reverse the overdose. It is now recommended that people who are likely to overdose on opioids have access to Naloxone to save their lives until they can break the addiction.

Getting Help for Addiction

Getting Help

It is critical for the user to get into recovery as soon as possible after an overdose, or it could happen again. Without a doubt, getting help for an opioid addiction is a tough process for anyone. One thing is for sure: Don’t give opioid users their next dose of drugs, as that could be the last one. Every time users decide to take opioids that are not prescribed for them in varying doses, there is a risk of overdose. Don’t let someone you care about keep on rolling the dice when they can start our 12-step program today. We can help you or someone in your life break free of an opioid addiction in a safe environment with our 12-step program. Our program provides behavioral therapy and medical-assisted treatment for anyone with an opioid use disorder.

Fighting the pangs of withdrawal from opioids can be difficult for anyone. According to Web MD, symptoms can last from a few days to a few weeks of time. Some common symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Body aches
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Dilated pupils
  • Belly cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Shaking
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

These symptoms can be frightening if you don’t know how to deal with withdrawal from opioids. The severity of each case can make it even more difficult to treat at home. You may need radical treatment to overcome opioid addiction. With severe addictions, there is a risk of you quitting treatment altogether and resuming opioid use. We can be the organization in the middle that helps you or your loved one move beyond substance use with greater ease in a safe environment.

Granite Recovery Centers has an intensive inpatient program that provides a residential medical detox of 3-10 days to help you or your loved one get through the withdrawal period. We can provide the support and structure necessary to help you break loose from the clutches of addiction. We focus on creating a thorough treatment plan that empowers you to overcome opioid addiction successfully. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.

There may be a feeling of wanting to put off help for another time. We understand that committing to treatment is a huge decision that is not to be taken lightly, but it cannot be put aside. An overdose is always a possibility when a person suffers from substance use disorder. Having the courage to confront someone who needs help may be the most thoughtful thing you can do. On the other hand, signing yourself up for opioid addiction treatment shows that you care about yourself.

Conclusion

The opioid epidemic has taken a toll on America’s health and economy. The recent rise in opioid substance use is killing more people in the United States than any other factor, and the method is overdose. Preventing opioid overdose from occurring is just as essential as stopping the damaging effects of one after it happens. As soon as you or a loved one is able to get successful treatment for your opioid addiction, you don’t have to worry about an overdose. This rapidly growing trend can affect any family and has to be placed under control to save lives. You can do your part by overcoming an opioid addiction yourself or by helping someone else who needs treatment.

Reach out to our team at Granite Recovery Centers today, and we can pave the way to an addiction-free life. We have been helping people with substance use disorders for over 10 years and can offer a comprehensive treatment plan to help you get back on your feet.

At Granite Recovery Centers, we want to provide accurate information about health and addiction so that our readers can make informed decisions.

We have credentialed medical doctors & clinicians who specialize in addiction treatment review the information on our website before it is published. We use credible sources such as government websites and journal articles when citing statistics or other medically related topics.