Believe it or not, an overdose can happen to anyone. Whether you’ve been prescribed pain medication by your doctor, or a loved one is using an illicit substance such as heroin or fentanyl, the risks of an overdose are still present. Several substances that can cause one to overdose include opioids, alcohol, stimulants, and more. In this post, I’ll be diving into the dangers of an opioid overdose and how to stay safe when using opioids.
An overdose can occur when someone uses toxic amounts of a substance which overloads the body or brain, causing them not to function properly. Drug overdoses can be fatal and should be taken seriously. If they aren’t, they can cause severe damage to your body and mind. These health effects can be short-term or long-term and can significantly impact your quality of life.
Public and private organizations alike are working to help end the overdose crisis in the U.S. through partnership, grassroots organization, and community outreach. With support from these allies and legislation aimed at ending the overdose crisis, we hope to see more lives saved.
The Fierce Grip of the Opioid Overdose Crisis in the U.S.
The leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. today is drug overdoses, with opioids being the most common drug causing these deaths. The CDC estimates that opioids cause 91 overdose deaths a day and their misuse is responsible for more than 1,000 emergency room visits daily.
In 2022, the CDC reports that 79,770 drug overdose deaths involving opioids occurred, which was a slight decrease from the 80,997 opioid-involved overdose deaths in 2021. Since 1999, more than 932,000 people have died from a drug overdose—with those involving opioids like synthetic opioids, heroin, and fentanyl increasing by more than eight times since 1999.
Based on CDC data analysis, the opioid crisis took hold when prescription opioids began to be over prescribed in the 1990s. With the steady rise in opioid overdoses into the 2000s, data indicates that overdoses involving heroin began to rise in 2010. In 2013, the U.S. saw an increase of overdoses involving fentanyl, which is now the overarching issue. From 2019 – 2020, rises in overdoses from fentanyl spiked again. Pain management experts believe that the rise in opiate related overdoses isn’t intentional, but an outcome of patients attempting to manage relentless pain, making the opioid overdose crisis even more dire.
How Does an Opioid Overdose Occur?
An opioid overdose happens when someone who uses opioids consumes a toxic amount of the substance. As stated above, overdoses aren’t limited to those using illicit opiates – anyone using opioids is at risk of an overdose.
What are the Signs of an Opioid Overdose?
Someone may be experiencing an overdose if their face is pale, their body is limp, or their fingernails or toenails turn blue or purple. They may also vomit or make gurgling noises and may not be able to speak or be woken up. When an overdose occurs, the person may have trouble breathing and their heartbeat could slow or stop. Another key sign of an overdose is respiratory depression, which occurs when an overdose isn’t reversed and the brain is unable to properly regulate respiratory rate.
How to Stay Safe When Using Opioids
Staying safe while using opioids is key to avoiding an overdose. There are several precautions one can take to ensure they’re using opioids safely and in line with their doctors recommendations.
Always Follow Directions from Doctors
Never take more than the prescribed dose from your doctor. Increasing your dosage, for any reason, without your doctor’s consent can significantly increase your risk of an accidental overdose.
If you’re experiencing tremendous pain that you believe can only be relieved by opioids, seek help from a medical professional rather than turning to illicit opioids.
Never mix opioids with alcohol or other drugs. Doing so can increase your risk of overdosing and make it more difficult to monitor for signs of an overdose. It can also make it more difficult to diagnose and treat an overdose.
Make the Most of Innovative Technology to Prevent Overdoses
Today, medical technology is capable of monitoring patients in numerous applications. In healthcare environments, medical staff can monitor patients for fluctuations in heart rate and respiratory depression. Until recently, there hasn’t been a noninvasive monitoring device that patients using opioids could easily use at home.
Masimo, a medical technology company responsible for creating modern day pulse oximetry, recently released the Masimo Opioid Halo. The Opioid Halo is a real-time monitoring device that identifies respiratory depression caused by opioids. The proprietary algorithm alarms when it detects patterns of instability that are indicative of an overdose. The device not only alerts users that they may be at risk of an overdose, but can send alerts to caregivers and even emergency medical services when the user doesn’t act on the initial alert.
Inform Family or Friends of Opioid Use
If you’ve been prescribed opioids after surgery or to manage chronic pain, consider informing friends or family that you’ll be using opioids. Having a support system that can check in with you regularly, recognize signs of an overdose, and contact emergency services on your behalf can reduce the risk of an overdose and the risk of accidental death.
If you’re concerned that you may be at risk for an overdose, speaking with your doctor about whether or not you may need a prescription for naloxone is another good safety precaution. If you do have naloxone, make sure your family or friends know what it is and how to use it.
Avoid Accidental Overdoses in Your Household
If you have opioids in the house, always store them in a safe and secure location where kids or pets can’t access them. When in possession of opioids, keep in mind that you’ve taken on the responsibility to possess a controlled substance that can be dangerous to consume.
If you have left over opioids that won’t be used, always dispose of them in a safe manner. Prescription drugs like opioids should never be flushed down the toilet or simply thrown in the trash. Take the substance to a local pharmacy and ask for them to dispose of it in a safe way.
Remember, Safe Use of Opioids is Key to Ending the Opioid Overdose Crisis
If you or a loved one uses opioids to manage pain, understanding the risks is extremely critical. Ignoring them can result in tremendous risks that could diminish your quality of life or even result in death. Always speak to your doctor about any concerns and keep safe practices in mind.
While using opioids safely is an important part of avoiding accidental overdoses, healthcare professionals have become increasingly cautious about prescribing them in the first place. If opioids are the only option to manage your pain, use them safely and always follow your doctor’s directions.
Opioids are powerful drugs that are misused by many. In order to end the opioid overdose crisis in the U.S., heightened awareness on the dangers of opioids is critical. I hope this article helps you or a loved one better understand the risks and consequences of misusing opioids – we can all work together to loosen the grip of this crisis.