Drug overdoses are becoming more and more common in the United States, a health issue that is taking lives across the country. A patient can overdose on a drug or alcohol when he or she takes more of an illicit substance than the body can effectively process. In response, one or more body systems will shut down, causing patients to have seizures, lose consciousness, go into cardiac arrest and often die.
NOTE: If you believe that someone you are with is overdosing or if you believe that you have taken too much of any drug or alcohol and are at risk, call 911 immediately.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that more than 36,000 lives were lost to drug overdose in 2008 – or about 100 Americans every day. Data from the National Vital Statistics System shows that drug overdose rates have more than tripled in the United States since 1990, and the CDC says that the main substances responsible for this increase are prescription drugs – specifically painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin, hydrocodone and others – and alcohol. In fact, painkillers are responsible for more overdose deaths than both cocaine and heroin, according to the CDC’s report.
According to Medline Plus, there are two types of drug overdose: intentional and accidental. In an intentional overdose, the patient purposefully takes more than the recommended dosage of a medication or an illicit substance, usually with the hope of harming themselves or experiencing an extreme physical effect. In an accidental overdose, the patient may not have intended to overdose but inadvertently experienced an ill effect due to taking too much of one drug or combining multiple substances. Accidental overdoses are more common, and a cause of great concern and worry for family members who love someone addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.
It is important to note that poisoning is different from overdose. A poisoning occurs when the patient is exposed to a dangerous chemical or harmful substance without their knowledge. A drug overdose, whether intentional or accidental, happens when a patient chooses to take a drug and/or drink alcohol.
No matter how or why they occur, drug overdoses are deadly. The best way for patients to avoid them is to enroll in a treatment program that provides them with the care they need to stop taking dangerous drugs, and learn the tools necessary to avoid relapse. If an overdose has already occurred, fighting a repeat occurrence starts with stopping use of drugs and alcohol.
At Michael’s House, we offer a comprehensive drug detox and addiction treatment program here in Palm Springs, California, that provides everything that patients need to recover post-drug overdose or to avoid experiencing an overdose in the first place. Contact us today for more information about our drug rehab program options here in Southern California.
The risks for experiencing a drug overdose increase when certain circumstances or events occur. Some populations are more at risk for experiencing a drug overdose, as well. According to a study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence [2011;115:221-8], high-risk populations for drug overdose include:
High Risk Populations+
- Poly-drug abusers. Patients who take more than one drug at a time (e.g., alcohol and prescription painkillers) are at a higher risk of experiencing a synergistic effect, or an exponential increase of effect that amounts to more than the singular effects of each drug added together.
- Doctor shoppers. Patients who get narcotic prescriptions or prescriptions for multiples of the same type of drug from different doctors, go the emergency room in an attempt to get more pills, or claim to have lost their medication in order to get emergency refills or refill early.
- Prescription painkiller abusers. Abusing a prescription by taking it non-medically – in larger doses than prescribed, by crushing it before swallowing, or taking it without a prescription – increases the chances of overdose.
- Drug injectors. Using needles to ingest any substance – especially heroin, crystal meth or cocaine – increases the possibility of overdose.
- Low-income individuals. Statistically, a higher rate of overdose patients are classified as low income.
- Residents of rural areas. Though drug overdoses are prevalent across the country, a higher rate of rural residents experience overdose than those in other areas.
- Medicaid recipients. Medicaid patients receive twice as many prescriptions for painkillers than those not on Medicaid, and as a result, experience six times as many overdoses.
- Teenagers. Teens often experiment with a number of drugs and, with no experience to base their dosage choice upon, many inadvertently overdose.
- Elderly. Older people have more medications and a higher rate of alcoholism – and fewer people who are paying attention to the changes that signify drug abuse and addiction. As a result, overdose is common.
According to the California Department of Alcohol & Drug Programs, risky situations that are more likely to cause drug overdose include:
High Risk Situations+
- Co-occurring disorders. Those diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental health disorders that many patients attempt to self-medicate through drugs and alcohol are more likely to inadvertently overdose.
- Recently drug-free. Those who have recently quit abusing drugs and alcohol are more likely to overdose if they relapse, especially those who have been in prison or in rehab for a long period of time as their tolerance has adjusted.
- Previous overdoses. If a patient has overdosed in the past, it is more likely that he or she will overdose again in the future.
- Detoxing. Those who are experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and relapse in an attempt to alleviate those symptoms are more likely to take too much in their haste to feel better.
- Solitary drug use. Patients who abuse drugs alone are more likely to overdose. Additionally, because there is no one there to help them in the event of an overdose, they are also more likely to die as a result.
- Long-term drug use. Those who have been abusing drugs for a long time are more likely to overdose than those who are newer to drug abuse and addiction. Because the body’s tolerance can fluctuate and because the patient may be a little too confident in their body’s ability to handle certain amounts of a drug, and ultimately take too much and trigger a drug overdose.
How to Handle an Overdose
Family and friends who believe that someone they are with has overdosed on any illicit substance or alcohol, the best thing to do is to call 911 right away. The operator will ask callers for information about the victim and provide them with answers to their questions as they stay on the line and wait for emergency medical assistance to arrive. For example, it may be helpful if callers can provide information about the drug used in the overdose – name of the drug, how much was taken, when, and if other drugs or alcohol were also taken. It also may be necessary for the caller to perform emergency breathing on the victim, provide treatment for shock, monitor the victim’s vital signs, or keep the victim calm if conscious until help arrives; the 911 operator may be able to assist in giving direction.
Also, according to the US National Library of Medicine, those who are with a drug overdose victim should follow a few tips:
- Do not risk the safety of bystanders. If the victim is conscious and violent or behaving erratically, bystanders should protect their safety first and try to keep the victim from hurting themselves by moving dangerous objects out of the way and removing safety hazards.
- Do not attempt to reason with the victim. Patients under the influence of drugs and alcohol are unreasonable and any attempts at conversation may only worsen the situation or be misinterpreted by the overdose victim.
- Do not attempt to provide any “home remedies” for drug overdose. There are a number of myths in circulation that offer “quick fixes” depending upon the drug of choice. It is important to avoid trying anything that is not recommended by the 911 operator. Attempting to employ home remedies can worsen the situation and take up time that could mean the difference between life and death.
- Do not give the victim any food or drink. Depending upon the drug of overdose, it may have been suggested the milk, coffee or water would be an effective tool in reviving the victim. Because airways may become obstructed and surgical procedures may be necessary, this is not advised.
- Do not move the victim if unconscious. If the overdose victim is not conscious, do not try to wake them up by dragging them into the shower or trying to walk them around. Instead, keep them still and comfortable (e.g., loosen tight clothing or provide a blanket if they are not clothed warmly enough) until help arrives.
Harm reduction is defined as any measure taken to reduce the chances of death or disease transmission through drug abuse or addiction. The idea is that if the patient can live through another day of addiction and avoid drug overdose, they can get one day closer to getting the treatment they need to heal. Harm reduction can come in many forms, including:
- Changing drugs of choice. Opting for a “less harmful” drug or using smaller doses can mitigate harm for a time and limit the chance of overdose.
- Marking drug paraphernalia to avoid sharing needles or pipes. Marking a pipe with duct tape or biting the end of a syringe to make it look less similar to those owned by others can limit the chances of inadvertently sharing infected equipment.
- Needle exchange. Going to drop-off locations and trading in used needles for clean ones can also limit the onset of infections and the sharing of diseased needles.
In a study published in the Journal of Urban Health [2010 December; 87(6): 931–941], another harm-reduction measure – giving naloxone, an anti-overdose medication, to active intravenous drug users – was monitored for its effectiveness in helping overdose victims to survive the experience. The study showed that participants who were given naloxone to self-administer or give to a friend during a drug overdose had an 89-percent reversal rate and 83 percent of those attributed the reversal to their administration of the distributed naloxone.
Harm-reduction measures, no matter how effective, are not enough to keep addicted patients alive and well forever. Drug abuse and addiction causes a number of acute and chronic illnesses that are deadly, and simply learning how to use drugs without overdosing or contracting a blood-borne disease is not enough. Enrolling in treatment is the only way to change the inevitable end that comes with untreated drug addiction.
Surviving an Overdose
A study published in the British Medical Journal, [1970 May 9; 2(5705): 318–322] reports that an overdose can change the way that the patient’s body and brain responds to their drug of choice. When an overdose is reversed and the patient survives, they usually regain consciousness within the first couple of days, but the drug remains active in their systems for as long as three weeks. In some cases, a withdrawal syndrome can result, causing the patient to experience seizures, irritability, restlessness, and disrupted sleep patterns including insomnia. Some suggest that overdose can intensify physical tolerance and dependence upon the drug of choice. In other words, surviving an overdose makes living with addiction even more difficult than it was prior to the experience.
Those who experience a drug or alcohol overdose and survive the experience should not view it as a “get out of jail free” card. Rather, take advantage of the opportunity to enroll in an addiction treatment program that will provide all the social, psychological and medical coping skills necessary to walk away from drug abuse forever.
Fight the Risk of Overdose: Choose Treatment at Michael’s House
If you have survived a drug overdose or if someone you care about is living with an active addiction to drugs and alcohol and you fear drug overdose, call Michael’s House today to learn more about the addiction treatment program options that are available. We can provide you with the information you need to get started today.