Drug overdose is a health issue that claims thousands of live across America each year. Opioid overdose and addiction in particular has reached epidemic proportions. Drug or alcohol overdose happens when a person takes more of a substance than the body can process. In response, body systems shut down, resulting in seizures, loss of consciousness, cardiac arrest and even death. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 50,000 people lost their lives to drug overdose in 2015, the last year reported. Opioids were responsible for 35,000 of those deaths.1
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.
Medline Plus places drug overdose into two categories: intentional and accidental. In an intentional overdose, the patient purposefully takes more than the recommended dose of a medication or an illicit substance, usually with the hope of harming themselves.2 In an accidental overdose, the patient ingests too much of one drug or a combination of drugs in an attempt to experience a better high. This type of overdose is more common and causes anxiety for family members trying to help a loved one addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. No matter how or why they occur, drug overdoses are deadly. The best way for patients struggling with substance abuse to prevent an overdose is to find a treatment program.
The risk of drug overdose increases when certain circumstances or events occur, and for some populations the risk is higher. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the following groups are at higher risk of abusing a substance:
- Teen and Young Adults
- Older adults (over 50) taking more than one medication or dealing with chronic health problems.
- Those with mental health issues.3
Those who have recently quit abusing drugs and alcohol are also 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.
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.
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.
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 immediately. 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. Gather as much information as possible about the drug used — the name of the drug, how much was taken, and when and if other drugs or alcohol were also consumed. The caller may also need to perform CPR on the victim, keep the victim warm, monitor vital signs, or keep the victim calm if conscious until help arrives; 911 operators will provide necessary instructions.
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 struggling with addiction, call Michael’s House now. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions about treatment options. You are not alone. Call us now.
1 “Overdose Death Rates.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIDA, 15 Sept. 2017. Accessed, 25 Oct. 2017.
2 “Overdose.” MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. October 24, 2017. Accessed, 25 Oct. 2017.
3 Lynsen, Ann. “Specific Populations and Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA, 27 Oct. 2015. Accessed, 25 Oct. 2017.
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