An opioid overdose can happen if a person has overloaded their body with medications or illicit drugs, or a combination of opioids and other medications, drugs, or alcohol. Every day, approximately 130 people die from an opioid overdose in the United States.
Most opioid overdoses are unintentional, but they can happen in a variety of ways and in any type of location. Regardless of how or where a person has overdosed, opioid overdose is a serious medical emergency that must be treated immediately. It’s important to know the signs of an opioid overdose and know what to do so you can potentially save a life.
When taken, opioids affect the entire body. When a person overloads their body with opioids, the following can happen:
While opioid overdoses can happen at anytime and anywhere, there are ways you can help. The most important step is knowing and identifying the signs of an opioid overdose:
If you suspect someone may be experiencing any of the above symptoms of an opioid overdose, call 911 immediately.
Note that most states have enacted Good Samaritan laws, which offers protection for those who report an overdose in good faith, even if criminal activity is involved. These laws encourage members of the community, family members, and friends to call 911 in the event of witnessing an overdose.
The primary problem with an overdose is inadequate respirations. Ensure the individual has an open airway that is free of obstructions and lay the individual on their side.
If available, administer Narcan®(naloxone) within two to three minutes. When administered, Narcan works by blocking the effects of opiates on the brain and temporarily restores breathing. To obtain Narcan in Pennsylvania, you can either get it from a doctor’s prescription, or by downloading the standing order and taking it to a participating pharmacy.
Lastly, be sure to stay with the individual until help arrives.
If you are someone you know is suffering from a substance abuse disorder, please call the Get Help Now Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for more information about treatment resources.
To learn more about UPMC’s programs, contact the UPMC Center for Opioid Recovery or UPMC Addiction Medicine Services.