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Article Summary

What Causes an Opioid Overdose?

There are many negative consequences that can arise when you start abusing opioids, or if you have been taking them for a long time. However, one of the biggest risks is that you could suffer an overdose. Read on to find out more.

Understanding Opioids

Opioids are natural and synthetic agents that work on the opioid receptors of the brain. By so doing, they effectively produce effects that are similar to what you would experience if you abused opium.

Opiates, on the other hand, refer to the natural opioids that are derived from the poppy opium plant. They include such medications as codeine and morphine and are commonly prescribed for the management of pain.

Although opioids come with many medical uses, some people divert them for the euphoric and pleasurable effects that they cause. You might even start abusing these drugs due to these effects.

An overdose, on the other hand, will occur when you take opioids in higher doses than your body can handle. As a result, you may experience depression in your respiration as well as in your central nervous system. The overdose could also give rise to apnea and mitosis - conditions that might turn out to be fatal unless they are effectively treated.

This condition is so serious that more than 18,000 people lost their lives in the United States in 2015 as a result of suffering an overdose on prescription opioids. To this end, it is recommended that you learn how to identify and recognize the basic symptoms of opioid overdose so that you can act fast to get it reversed and managed.

What is an Opioid Overdose?

As we mentioned above, an opioid overdose will occur when you take too much of a particular opioid - at a level that is higher than your body and brain can handle. Due to the effects of these drugs on the segments of the brain that are responsible for regulating breathing, taking them in high doses could cause you to suffer respiratory depression that could lead to death.

There are three primary symptoms that are used to determine whether or not you are overdosing on opioids. These symptoms are known in medical circles as the opioid overdose triad and they include:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Respiratory depression
  • Unconsciousness

When you combine these drugs with sedative medications, alcohol, and just about any other substance that causes the depression of your central nervous system, you may increase your risk of suffering respiratory depression. In many cases, this form of drug combination could lead to death.

Today, opioids are considered to be among the most fatal of all addictive drugs. This is because of the high number of drug overdoses involving opioids that often turn out to be fatal.

In 2016, for instance, it was reported that more than 63000 people lost their lives as a result of suffering an opioid overdose in the United States. This number was an increase by 21 percent from the figures reported in previous years.

Opioid Overdose Symptoms

As we mentioned above, you will suffer an opioid overdose if you take these drugs in higher doses than your brain and body can manage. This condition might also turn out to be life-threatening or fatal. For this reason, it is recommended that you seek medical assistance if you suspect that you - or someone else - might be suffering an overdose.

Some of the signs and symptoms that occur when you suffer an overdose involving opioids include:

  • Blue or purple color to the fingernails and lips
  • Clammy skin
  • Limp body
  • Pale face
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Slowed breathing
  • Stopped breathing
  • Unconsciousness or non-responsiveness
  • Vomiting

Respiratory depression can be particularly dangerous. This is because it could give rise to the development of hypoxia. When this happens, you will not be able to get oxygen in adequate amounts to your blood.

As a result, there is a high risk that you may suffer permanent brain damage. Further, the condition could lead to death unless It is properly managed. Another potential cause of death is the stopped or slowed heart rate arising from opioid overdose.

If you experience any of the symptoms listed and described above, it is recommended that you call 911 or your local poisons control center as soon as possible so that you can get the medical assistance you need to overcome this overdose condition.

Risk Factors for Opioid Overdose

If you take opioids exactly as your doctor prescribed and increased, you might be able to benefit from their medical properties. However, using these medications outside the prescription guidelines provided by your doctor might prove to be dangerous. This is particularly true because it could increase your risk of suffering an overdose.

However, there are other factors that could increase your chances of an opioid overdose. These factors include but are not limited to:

a) Route of Administration

The way you use opioids could affect your risk of suffering an overdose. For instance, there are some methods of use of ingestion that could cause you to experience the effects of these drugs rather rapidly. These include snorting the drugs in crushed form or mixing them with a liquid for intravenous use.

b) Drug Interactions

On the other hand, if you mix opioids with any other intoxicating and addictive substance, you might increase your risk of a drug overdose involving any or all of the substances that you took. This is particularly true if you take an opioid with other substances that depress the central nervous system, such as alcohol.

Apart from the respiratory depression that occurs when you abuse alcohol and opioids, you might also increase your risk of severe liver toxicity. This is particularly true when you take drugs like Vicodin that also contain acetaminophen.

c) Relapse

If you have been abusing opioids and you go through a treatment or management program that allows you to reduce or complete stop your substance use, you may reduce your tolerance to the drugs.

This means that when you suffer a relapse and start abusing these drugs again, there is a high risk that you could take opioids in the same dose that you used to. As a direct result, you could suffer a drug overdose due to your reduced tolerance.

d) Tolerance

After you start using opioids, you might notice an increase in your tolerance to opioids. This means that you would to take the drugs in higher doses to be able to achieve the pleasurable effects that you have become accustomed to. This means that your tolerance would have grown.

However, as you continue increasing your dose of opioids, there is a high risk that you may take the drugs in too high a dose. As a result, you may suffer an overdose that could also potentially turn out to be fatal.

In the same way, if you are already struggling with an opioid use disorder, there is a high risk that you could end up suffering an overdose. The other risk factors for suffering this condition include but are not limited to:

  • Being from a lower socioeconomic background
  • Being male
  • Being of an older age
  • Getting a prescription for a high dosage of more than 100 mg morphine that you need to take on a daily basis
  • Having a history of drug abuse and addiction
  • Having multiple prescription for opioids and other drugs like benzodiazepines
  • Living in a home where some people have opioids, including but not limited to prescription pain relief medications
  • Reduced tolerance as a result of being released from the criminal justice system, graduating from an addiction treatment center, or following a medical detoxification program
  • Struggling with a mental health condition
  • Struggling with opioid dependence
  • Taking these drugs intravenously
  • Taking these drugs with other sedative substances
  • Using opioids when you have a medical condition like depression, lung disease, liver disease, or HIV
  • Using prescription opioids, particularly in higher than normal doses

Response to Opioid Overdose

As we mentioned earlier, when you suspect an opioid overdose, the first thing you should do is get in touch with your local poisons control center or call 911 immediately. This is because you are going to need emergency medical assistance as soon as possible.

In particular, overdosing on opioids can prove to be dangerous. This is because it could result in permanent mental and physical harm. The condition might even lead to death unless you seek urgent medical treatment. It is for this reason that you are asked never to wait to get help for the condition because only by so doing could you end up saving your life - and the lives of others.

If you are taking care of someone who is suffering an overdose and you are waiting for the emergency medical first responders to arrive, you need to monitor the individual closely. Further, you should ensure that they are in a safe and secure place, upright, and awake where possible.

In case they have stopped breathing or their pulse rate is very low, you should perform CPR if you are trained to do so. After the medical crew arrive, you should report all your observations.

After the individual has been put under medical care, their vital signs will be monitored carefully as well as treated as required. These signs include their temperature, their blood pressure, their breathing, as well as their heart rate.

If the overdose condition is considered to be extremely severe, they might receive an administration of naloxone. This medication is used as an antidote because it works effectively in reversing most of the negative effects of opioid overdose.

In either case, you need to understand that the best chances of surviving a drug overdose involving opioids is through emergency medical assistance. To this end, you should never attempt to address the condition without any trained medical oversight.

Preventing Opioid Overdose

Although there are several ways to prevent an opioid overdose, the best option would be to seek treatment for your drug abuse and addiction as soon as you realize that you have one.

Through a professional addiction treatment program, you can notice a great difference in your lifestyle. It could, for instance, promote your recovery as well as reduce your risk of suffering an opioid overdose.

Treatment can also help you uncover all the reasons behind your substance abuse and addiction as well as treat these reasons. At the same time, you will learn how to build the skills that could enable you manage your opioid cravings, as well as resist any triggers that might cause you to continue abusing this class of drugs.

Some of these treatment and rehabilitation options and programs include but are not limited to:

a) Inpatient Addiction Treatment

Also known as residential drug rehab, inpatient addiction treatment will require that you stay for an extended period of time in a live-in facility. During your time in this facility, you will be provided with a safe and sober haven where you can continue recovering.

Further, the program could protect you from any potential triggers that might cause you to start abusing opioids again. You will also get the opportunity to work through your recovery while focusing on your ongoing sobriety.

b) Outpatient Addiction Treatment

The other option would be to go for outpatient drug rehab services. This type of treatment will allow you to continue living at home or in a sober or transitional living facility and checking into the drug rehab center a couple of times every week - for some hours each time.

When you opt for outpatient treatment, you need to have complete trust in your ability to motivate yourself and ensure that you do not succumb to the trigger that might cause you to relapse when you are not in the recovery center.

c) Aftercare Options

There are also several aftercare options that could prove to be beneficial once you check out of an outpatient or an inpatient addiction treatment program. These options include self-help support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous.

These groups are a great supplement to the formal treatment you may have received while enrolled in a drug rehab program. This means that they could prove useful in ensuring that you are able to maintain your sobriety in the long term. Further, they can ensure you join and build your own support system network comprised of other people who are struggling with similar issues on the road to recovery and sobriety.

Another option would be to go for other additional individual and group therapy sessions. This would be a good idea if you need to continue working through some of the issues that caused you to start and continue abusing drugs like opioids.

Through professional help, you may be able to avoid suffering an opioid overdose, or get it reversed should it happen. Irrespective of the type of recovery program you pick, you need to keep in mind that the best way for you to get started on the recovery journey is by getting the help that you need.

CITATIONS

https://bestpractice.bmj.com/topics/en-us/339

https://medlineplus.gov/opioidoverdose.html

https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/index.html

https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/information-sheet/en/

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