Every day in the United States, people die from drugs. Opioid overdoses account for over sixty percent of all drug overdoses in this country; in fact, according to the Surgeon General, 78 Americans die from an opiate overdose every day (Facing Addiction in America.) Victims of the opiate addiction epidemic can be your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers- addiction is a disease that does not discriminate, and no one is immune. In the face of rising rates of opiate-related fatalities, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs of an overdose on opiates. By knowing what to look for, you may be able to save someone’s life.
What’s Causing High Overdose Rates?
There’s no question about it- overdose rates are steadily rising every year, and most of it is due to opiate use and abuse. Opiates, including legal prescription drugs like oxycodone and illicit street drugs like heroin, are being used by more people every year. These drugs have a high potential for abuse and addiction, and can also cause a fatal overdose even during first-time use. Opiate use has become a major problem in almost every area of the United States:
- The number of prescription opiates dispensed between 1999 and 2014 quadrupled (CDC)
- The rate of prescription opiate overdoses quadrupled between 1999 and 2014 (CDC)
- Opioids killed more than 33,000 people in the United States in 2015 (CDC)
- Heroin killed more people than gun violence did in 2015 (The Washington Post.)
- Rates of heroin use among young people ages 18-25 have steadily risen over the past decade (CDC)
As the number of people using legal and illegal opiates rises, it’s vital for people to be able to recognize the signs of an overdose of opiates. When someone overdoses, getting immediate medical help can mean the difference between life and death, so it is vital to know when to call 911.
Common Signs of an Overdose on Opiates
If you know someone who uses opiates, whether recreationally or medically, it’s vital to be able to identify the signs of an overdose. Addictive use of these drugs can often end in a fatal overdose, and even using these drugs as prescribed can be dangerous because of how powerful they are. Some of the common signs of an overdose on opiates to look out for include:
- Limp body or muscles
- “Nodding out” or appearing to fall asleep
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Being unresponsive to outside stimuli
- Awake but unable to speak or respond
- Slow, shallow, or irregular breathing
- Stopped breathing
- Bluish, purple, or grayish skin tone (caused by lack of circulation), pale or clammy skin
- The “death rattle” or choking, gurgling sounds from the throat
- Fingernails and lips turn blue or purple color
- Slow, irregular pulse or lack of pulse
If someone exhibits any of these symptoms, it may be signs of an overdose on opiates, and their life likely depends upon quick and appropriate action taken to get them medical attention.
How to Address Signs of an Overdose
If you suspect that someone has overdosed on opiates (or any other drug) getting help can make the difference between life and death or serious, permanent injury. It is essential to call 911 and report any suspected overdose.
It can also help to carry naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal drug. This medication can be administered nasally or by muscular injection and is available without a prescription in many states. Giving someone this drug can reverse the effects of an overdose for enough time for first responders to arrive, but the effects of naloxone don’t last long. Without contacting 911, someone can slip back into an overdose and still die, even after receiving naloxone. The most important action to take if you witness signs of an overdose is to contact emergency services so that the life of the overdose victim can possibly be saved.
Getting Professional Help
For people who use illegal drugs, it can seem risky to call the police or 911 to report an overdose. However, in most states, including California, there exists a “Good Samaritan Law”. This law means that when you call for help to report an overdose, you can’t be arrested. Or, prosecuted for possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia. That means that calling 911 doesn’t put you at risk, even if you use drugs, too- it only serves to potentially save the life of someone who has overdosed. No matter the circumstances, preventing death from an overdose should be the highest priority in these situations.
If you have suffered an overdose or have seen a friend or family member exhibit signs of an overdose, it might be necessary to seek professional help for a substance abuse problem. If that’s the case, Diablo Valley Drug and Alcohol Services can help- call us today at 925-403-4889.