Today, August 31st, 2018, is International Overdose Awareness Day. This day is about raising awareness to prevent overdose, reduce the stigma associated with overdose, and to provide support to loved ones of overdose victims. This day also aims to educate on the signs, symptoms, and effects of an overdose.
What is an overdose?
An overdose occurs when an individual uses a drug or substance (or a combination of drugs and/or substances) beyond the recommended dosage and more than the body can cope with. All drugs—including prescription medications prescribed by a doctor—can cause an overdose.
Most common overdose drugs and substances
1. Depressants and Opioids
Depressants (sedatives) slow down breathing and heart rate. Opioids (narcotics) slow down the central nervous system to help calm the body. Depressants and opioids may be prescribed for pain relief or sleep aids, among other reasons. When depressants and opioids are taken together, their combined effects can lower functions like breathing and heart rate to the point of death.
Although alcohol is used recreationally, it is classified as a depressant. It is possible to overdose on alcohol. Dangerously high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream can stop the body from working properly. Alcohol poisoning can stop breathing, stop the heart’s functioning, or cause an individual to choke on their own vomit.
Unlike depressants, stimulants increase the activity in the central nervous system. When taken in excessive amounts, stimulants like amphetamines increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, seizures, or drug-induced psychotic episodes.
Effects of an overdose
All drug misuse can lead to permanent brain injury and damage. Overdose can result in hypoxic brain injury, which occurs from a lack of oxygen to the brain. Hypoxic brain injury can lead to coma, seizures, and death. The longer an individual does not breathe, the more damage is being done to their brain.
Signs and symptoms of an overdose
The signs and symptoms of an overdose differ and depend on the type of drug, the amount taken, and the individual’s state of health at the time of an overdose.
An overdose should be treated as a medical emergency and requires urgent medical care.
If you suspect someone has overdosed, call an ambulance immediately. Do not assume that someone is sleeping if they are unresponsive. Sometimes it can take hours for someone who has overdosed to die.
Also seek help if an individual is having a seizure, severe headache, chest pain, breathing difficulties, or if the person is extremely paranoid and/or agitated. Snoring and gurgling are also signs that someone is having trouble breathing. However, it is not necessary for someone who has potentially overdosed to have all of these signs or symptoms.
To prevent overdose, it is important to know the right dosage and timing of prescribed medications. It is also important to know what drugs cannot be mixed. If you feel that you are not in control of your drug use, please seek help.
Learn more about the latest research on overdoses, opioids, and drug addiction below:
1. How effective are medications for opioid addictions after overdoses?
Researchers in the United States recently investigated whether three specific medications (methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone) provided better treatments for opioid use disorder after opioid overdoses. This is the first American-based study to investigate the association between these medications, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, to treat opioid use disorder and mortality in any setting. Learn more about the efficacy of these medications in treating opioid addictions after overdoses.
2. Fighting the molecular roots of drug addiction
In 2016, opioid addiction was responsible for an estimated 42,000 deaths in the United States. While current medications generally treat the after-effects of opioid use, new drugs are in development that target the mechanisms of addiction in the brain. Find out more about new approaches to treating drug addiction.
3. Are prescriptions for opioids on the rise despite poor efficacy?
There is a growing controversy surrounding the treatment of chronic pain with opioid drugs due to efficacy and safety concerns. Researchers in the United Kingdom recently assessed whether the prescription of opioid drugs in primary care in England is increasing despite poor efficacy. Read more on opioid drug prescriptions in the UK here.
4. Is collaborative care effective for opioid and alcohol use disorders?
Primary care is an important method for treating opioid and alcohol use disorder. However, specialty care alone may be insufficient to address all the necessary treatments and is limited in availability. A study examined whether collaborative care increases the abstinence rates from opioid and alcohol use. Read more on the efficacy of collaborative care for opioid and alcohol use disorders.
Want to know more? Read about the latest research in opioids and overdose here.
Written by Alana Punit
- “Overdose Basics”. International Overdose Awareness Day, 2018, https://www.overdoseday.com/resources/overdose-basics/. Accessed 29 Aug 2018.
- Choy, Man-tik. “How Effective Are Medications For Opioid Addictions After Overdoses?”. Medical News Bulletin, 2018, https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/medications-opioid-addictions-overdoses/. Accessed 30 Aug 2018.
- Hizartzidis, Lacey. “Are Prescriptions For Opioid Drugs On The Rise Despite Poor Efficacy?”. Medical News Bulletin, 2018, https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/prescriptions-opioid-drugs-rise-poor-efficacy/. Accessed 30 Aug 2018.
- Iino, Agustin. “Fighting The Molecular Roots Of Drug Addiction”. Medical News Bulletin, 2018, https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/fighting-the-molecular-roots-of-drug-addiction/. Accessed 30 Aug 2018.
- Nijsure, Devang. “Is Collaborative Care Effective For Opioid And Alcohol Use Disorders?”. Medical News Bulletin, 2018, https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/collaborative-care-opioid-alcohol-disorders/. Accessed 30 Aug 2018.