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Opiate Overdose – Preventing, Recognizing and Treating

Understanding Opiate Overdose

Opiate overdose is a pressing public health concern that affects individuals and communities worldwide. With the increasing prevalence of opiate use for both medical and non-medical purposes, understanding the risks, symptoms, and treatment options for opiate overdose has never been more crucial.

a sign saying stop opiate overdose

An opiate overdose occurs when an individual consumes more opiates than their body can handle, putting them at risk of life-threatening health issues. Opiates, which include medications like morphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl, target the brain’s opioid receptors. These receptors are crucial for regulating pain, but they also influence vital life-sustaining functions such as breathing and heart rate.

During an overdose, opiates overwhelm these receptors, causing essential bodily functions to slow down excessively or cease. This dangerous reduction can lead to insufficient oxygen reaching the brain (hypoxia), potentially resulting in coma, permanent brain damage, or death if not promptly treated.

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Recognizing and Responding to an Opiate Overdose: The Critical Role of Awareness and Narcan

Recognizing an Opiate Overdose

An opiate overdose can happen to anyone, whether it’s from prescribed medications or illicit drug use. Key signs include:

  • Unusual sleepiness or unresponsiveness: The individual may be difficult to wake or unable to speak.
  • Breathing problems: This could range from slow and shallow breathing to no breathing at all.
  • Pinpoint pupils: One of the most telling signs is extremely small pupils.
  • Skin changes: Skin may be cold and clammy or have a bluish tint, especially around the lips and nails.
  • Choking or gurgling sounds: Indicating that the person’s airway may be partially blocked.

The Importance of Carrying Narcan (Naloxone)

Narcan (naloxone) is a life-saving medication that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose if administered promptly. It works by quickly binding to opioid receptors in the brain, temporarily blocking the effects of the opiate. Here’s why carrying Narcan is crucial:

  • Accessibility: Narcan can be administered by anyone, not just healthcare professionals. It’s available in many pharmacies without a prescription in the form of a nasal spray or injectable.
  • Rapid Action: Narcan acts within minutes, buying crucial time until emergency medical help arrives.
  • Lifesaving Potential: Having Narcan on hand can be the difference between life and death in overdose situations.

If any “ONE” of these symptoms presents, please seek emergency medical assistance immediately.

NIH (National Institute of Drug Abuse) reports  More than 106,000 persons in the U.S. died from drug-involved overdose in 2021, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids.

Contributing Overdose Risk Factors

The risk of overdose increases when opioid drugs are used outside prescription guidelines or bought from the street. Numerous other factors may influence the risk and severity of the overdose.

  • Mixing Drugs: While the mixture of substances like alcohol and sedatives are present in many opioid overdose deaths, it is possible to take too much of a prescribed drug accidentally.
  • Relapse: Also, when relapse occurs, the opioid user is at much higher risk of an overdose. After a certain period of abstinence, tolerance levels are naturally reset and returning to the same dose can be risky.
  • Laced Street Drugs: Fatal drug overdose deaths are spiking in cities across the nation. Toxic street drugs continue to work their way from town to town, leaving a trail of destruction, death and broken lives.
  • Method of Use: Injecting or snorting an opiate, may be much riskier than a slower metabolic manner such as ingesting or smoking the drug.

What to do in Case of an Opiate Overdose?

(These are opinions based on other sites. It should be not used as guidance in an overdose situation.)

If you suspect someone is overdosing on opiates, you can choose to take the following steps:

  1. Call for emergency medical help immediately. Time is critical in an overdose situation.
  2. Administer Narcan if available. Follow the instructions on the Narcan package. If you’re using the nasal spray, spray it into one nostril while the person lies on their back.
  3. Try to keep the person awake and breathing. Speak loudly, shake them gently, but do not inflict pain.
  4. Place the person in the recovery position if they are breathing but unconscious. This position helps keep the airway open and prevents choking, should they vomit.
  5. Stay with the person until help arrives. Continuous monitoring is essential. If you’ve administered Narcan, be aware that its effects are temporary, and the person may need another dose until emergency responders take over.


By understanding how to recognize the signs of an opiate overdose, the importance of carrying Narcan, and knowing what to do in an emergency, you can help save lives. Remember, this guidance does not replace the need for professional medical intervention, which is critical in an overdose situation. Your quick actions can make a significant difference as you wait for emergency services to arrive.


For more descriptive information, please read “Responding to an overdose” or other educational sites.

Important Facts

Anyone who might encounter an opiate overdose situation should keep naloxone accessible. This includes individuals prescribed opiate medications, those using opiates recreationally, and their friends and family members. Additionally, first responders, healthcare professionals, and community members in areas with high rates of opiate use are encouraged to carry naloxone to provide immediate aid in emergency situations.

Having naloxone on hand offers crucial protection for individuals at increased risk of an opioid overdose. While professional first responders and emergency departments are typically equipped with naloxone, their arrival might not be swift enough to counteract an opioid overdose effectively. Naloxone can be carried and administered by anyone, enabling bystanders, including friends, family members, non-healthcare professionals, and those who use opioids, to potentially save a life by reversing an overdose.

Narcan®, a life-saving medication used to reverse opioid overdoses, is now accessible over the counter. For more information, please visit the Over the Counter (OTC) Naloxone webpage.

SAMHSA's Overdose Prevention and Response Toolkit has been updated to offer comprehensive guidance for a diverse audience on how to prevent and respond to overdoses. This toolkit underscores the importance of harm reduction and the availability of treatment as key components of overdose prevention strategies. Designed to enhance training on overdose prevention and reversal, the toolkit outlines the critical roles of opioid overdose reversal medications such as naloxone and nalmefene. It also details steps for effectively responding to an overdose situation. Additionally, the toolkit includes specific appendices tailored for various groups, including people who use drugs (PWUD), individuals prescribed opioid medications, first responders, healthcare professionals, and more, ensuring that a wide range of people can access vital information and resources.

The importance of medical detox in preventing opiate overdose cannot be overstated. As the first critical step in the journey towards recovery, medical detox provides a safe and controlled environment for individuals to rid their bodies of opioids under the supervision of healthcare professionals. This process significantly reduces the risk of potential overdose by carefully managing withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings, which are often triggers for relapse and overdose. Moreover, medical detox serves as a foundational phase, preparing individuals for further treatment and recovery steps by addressing the physical dependence on opiates. It paves the way for comprehensive rehabilitation efforts, including therapy and support systems, which together, contribute to long-term recovery and significantly diminish the likelihood of overdose. By prioritizing medical detox, individuals struggling with opiate dependence are given the crucial support needed to embark on a safer path to recovery.

For over 25 years, Waismann Method has been at the forefront of medical detoxification, providing a pivotal first step towards recovery for those grappling with opiate addiction. By offering a medically supervised environment, Waismann Method significantly minimizes the risk of opiate overdose. It achieves this by carefully managing withdrawal symptoms and curbing cravings, which are often the primary triggers for relapse and overdose. Furthermore, this medical detox process lays the groundwork for individuals' recovery journey, addressing physical dependence on opiates and setting the stage for comprehensive rehabilitation, including therapy and support networks. This approach not only facilitates a smoother transition into recovery but also plays a critical role in preventing the likelihood of an overdose, ensuring individuals receive the essential support needed to pursue a safer recovery path.

Preventing an Opiate Overdose

  • Do not mix prescription painkillers with alcohol, sleeping pills, or illicit substances.
  • Use care when taking an addictive painkiller. Doctors should prescribe these medications at only safe doses and carefully monitor the dosage and length of the treatment course.
  • Take medicine as prescribed
  • If you are already dependent on opioids, find a medical detox that can get you through the withdrawal phase. Seek a treatment center that will treat your drug dependence based on your unique needs.
  • Control your opioid cravings. There are nonaddictive medications available such as Naltrexone or Vivitrol. These medications are the primary tool to help eliminate physical cravings after an effective detox.
  • Seek a mental health professional. Sometimes untreated emotional conditions such as trauma, depression, and anxiety can create relapse triggers. Work with a mental health provider that understands neuroscience, one that carefully listens to you. One that sees your distress and provides the necessary tools you need to proceed with a healthy and productive life.
  • Store medicine safely where children or pets cannot reach it
  • Dispose of any unused medication

Overdose Prevention and Treatment Options

Preventing opiate overdose involves education, proper prescription use, and access to treatment for those struggling with opiate dependence. Treatment options vary based on the individual’s needs but may include:

  • Detoxification programs to manage withdrawal symptoms safely
  • Behavioral therapies to address the underlying causes of opiate use
  • Support groups to provide ongoing encouragement and accountability


Finding Substance Use Disorder Treatment Near Me

Finding the right treatment for opiate dependence or misuse is critical to recovery. Utilize online directories, consult healthcare providers, or call national hotlines to find reputable treatment centers in your area. Look for facilities with strong patient reviews, comprehensive services, and accredited programs.

Waismann Method Medical Opioid Detox: Leading the Way in Opiate Recovery

At the forefront of opiate detoxification and recovery is the Waismann Method®, a pioneering medical detox treatment that has been helping individuals overcome opiate dependence safely and effectively. Our approach is centered on providing each patient with personalized, medical-based treatment plans that address the unique challenges of opiate detoxification.

Why Choose the Waismann Method?

  • Individualized Treatment Plans: We understand that every journey to recovery is unique. Our medical team creates personalized detox plans tailored to each patient’s health and treatment needs.
  • Expert Medical Care: Our board-certified medical professionals specialize in addiction medicine and are committed to providing the highest standard of care during the detoxification process.
  • Safe and Comfortable Detoxification: We utilize advanced medical techniques to ensure a safe, effective, and comfortable detox experience, minimizing withdrawal symptoms and complications.
  • Comprehensive Aftercare: Recovery doesn’t end with detox. We offer post-detox care at our exclusive recovery retreat, Domus Retreat®, where patients receive the support needed to transition smoothly to a life free from opiate dependence.


Embark on Your Path to Recovery

If you or a loved one is struggling with opiate dependence, the Waismann Method® offers a compassionate, effective solution to begin the journey to health and freedom. Contact us today to learn more about our program and how we can help you achieve a successful recovery.

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* Due to the potential medical complications arising from opiate and alcohol withdrawal, receiving treatment from a multi board-certified M.D. is crucial.

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