What to Do If You Overdose from Opiates

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Opiates are a class of naturally derived opioids, including codeine, morphine and heroin. While the term opioids was originally used in reference to synthetic narcotics like fentanyl, oxycontin and hydrocodone, the term is now used to describe all naturally derived opiates and synthetic opioid narcotics. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, overdose deaths linked directly to opioid narcotics have increased dramatically since 1999, and continue to climb on an annual basis. What once began as a gross overprescription of addictive painkillers rapidly transformed into a nationwide epidemic. In 2011, government officials released a plan to help curb overdose-related death rates. The released strategy was called “Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Crisis,” and it urged federal agencies to interact with pharmacies, prescribing physicians, patients, parents and youth about the dangers involved in opioid narcotic medications. While this government mandate did result in effectiveness as far as the crackdown on prescription painkiller distribution, many individuals who had already developed a physical and mental dependence simply turned to a cheaper and more readily available alternative – heroin. Since 2007, rates of heroin abuse and addiction have been on the sharp incline. The Centers for Disease Control and prevention released a study that suggested there were a total of 10,574 heroin-related overdose deaths in the year 2014 alone. This number represents a five-fold increase in heroin related deaths from 2002 to 2014.

At Guardian Recovery we understand what a huge threat opiate narcotics present to members of the general public. Opiate addiction does not discriminate, and it progresses in severity if not effectively treated in a professional treatment setting. When it comes to heroin and other frequently abused opiates, medical detox is always a necessary first step on the road to long-term recovery. We provide a medical detox experience quite unlike any other, which addresses every component of addiction in a highly individualized and integrated manner.

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Opiate Abuse and Addiction

Opiate abuse and addiction have become major health-related issues throughout the US. This trend began with the over-prescription of narcotic painkillers, as previously mentioned. Many individuals who developed opiate dependence disorders transitioned to heroin abuse with the government crackdown on painkiller distribution. When it comes to heroin abuse and addiction, there are several signs and symptoms to look for. These include:

  • Using opiates in greater amounts than intended or for longer than initially intended
  • Continuing to use opiates despite significant interpersonal problems
  • Attempting to cut back or quit but being unable to do so for any significant length of time
  • Intense psychological cravings for opiates when they are not immediately available
  • A loss of motivation/spending more time obtaining and using opiates and less time engaging in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • An inability to fulfill basic personal obligations
  • The slow building of a physical tolerance, meaning the body begins to adapt to the opiate and a greater amount of the drug is required to produce the same effects over time
  • Withdrawal symptoms that occur upon abruptly ceased use (these symptoms typically resemble the symptoms associated with a bad flu)
  • The increased risk of overdose (overdose is more common among those who use heroin intravenously, though it can occur when an individual takes more of a prescription painkiller than intended)

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Opiate Overdose

The National Institute on Drug Abuse accumulated data that showed in the year 2018 alone, there were roughly 128 opiate-related overdose deaths every single day in the United States. This number included opiates like heroin and some prescription painkillers as well as synthetic opioids like fentanyl and other pain-relievers. The widespread issue of opiate overdose has rapidly become a major public health concern. As rates of overdose continue to skyrocket, pharmaceutical companies have been looking into effective medications that have the ability to reverse the effects of opiate overdose. Naloxone is a prescription medication that was designed to bind to opioid receptors (it is an opioid antagonist, in other words) and block the effects of an overdose, essentially bringing an individual back to life. One of the most lethal symptoms of opiate overdose is respiratory depression; naloxone normalizes breathing quickly. So far, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three separate types of naloxone: injectable, auto-injectable and a prepackaged nasal spray. The nasal spray and auto-injectable forms of naloxone are easy for friends and family members to administer should they be witnessing an overdose. The injectable form requires extensive professional training before it can be administered.

The nasal spray, also known as Narcan, is one of the most widely used and widely available opioid antagonists, and it has been extremely successful in reversing the effects of opiate overdose. It is recommended that all those who have friends of family members who currently abuse opiates of any kind obtain the nasal spray and learn how to effectively administer it just in case. When it comes to witnessing an opiate-related overdose, one of the most effective steps you can take is administering Narcan immediately.

What Actions To Take In Case Of Overdose

The US National Library of Medicine suggests that if an individual is experiencing any symptoms of opioid overdose, the person who is witnessing the overdose occur should call 911 immediately. Those who are experiencing an opiate overdose will be in and out of consciousness, their lips and fingernails will turn blue or purple, their breathing will be extremely shallow (maybe even entirely undetectable), they will make gurgling noises and they will not be able to be easily awaken. If you are in the presence of someone who is experiencing an opiate overdose, there are several other steps you can take, including:

  • Check for all of the signs of overdose initially – is the person breathing? Are they responding to being shaken or their name being yelled loudly? Do they feel cold and clammy to the touch?
  • If the person is unresponsive, call 911 immediately. Sadly, many individuals who witness an overdose do not call for help because they are afraid of getting in trouble. The Good Samaritan Law prevents that from happening.
  • If you have naloxone, administer it immediately.
  • If you feel comfortable doing so, perform chest compressions for two minutes after the naloxone has been administered. This is a good step to take if the individual is no longer breathing.
  • Lay the person on his or her side in case of uncontrollable vomiting.

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Guardian Recovery is a comprehensive, licensed and accredited addiction treatment program located in numerous locations, including in the heart of Delray Beach, Florida – an area that is widely recognized as the “recovery capital” of the country. We also have locations in Maine and New Jersey. All three of these states have been especially hard-hit by opiate abuse and addiction. At Guardian Recovery, we are dedicated to providing the highest level of clinical care available in a multi-phased continuum that leaves no stone left unturned. Our continuum of comprehensive care begins with medically monitored detox and continues with residential or intensive outpatient treatment. Once a client completes inpatient treatment he or she will continue on to a thorough and personalized aftercare program. Each of our treatment centers provides men and women of all ages and walks of life with an unmatched level of care provided in a private, luxury-style facility. Each and every one of our facilities was carefully designed with client comfort in mind. We understand that choosing an addiction recovery center and an appropriate level of clinical care can seem like a daunting task – fortunately, our team of experienced Treatment Advisors and Admissions Counselors is available to help 24-hours a day. For more information on our programs of opiate addiction recovery, or to get started on your own personal journey of opiate addiction recovery, give us a call today.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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