Opioid Overdose

America is in the midst of an opioid epidemic resulting in deadly opioid overdoses. Prevention is key to reducing your chances of experiencing a life threatening overdose.


Opioids, sometimes referred to as narcotics, are a class of drugs that are used to reduce pain. Opioids are a term for a type of drug that binds to opioid receptors in the body. They are highly addictive and are a type of strong prescription pain reliever. They are derived from the opium plant in their purest form, but can be man-made. Common opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, carfentanil, tramadol, codeine, buprenorphine, fentanyl, tramadol, methadone, morphine, and heroin. Prescription opioids are often prescribed by a family doctor to help a person manage their pain.

Opioid misuse occurs when a person is not taking their medication as prescribed by their doctor. A person may be misusing them to get high or taking someone’s opioid medication. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes you to compulsively seek out drugs even though they are causing you harm. Opioid addiction can result in serious, life-threatening consequences if a person is not provided with proper treatment to overcome their addiction.

Opioid overdose

In the United States, drug overdose is the leading cause of injury-related death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide, around 0.5 million deaths are attributed to drug use. More than 70 percent of those deaths are related to opioids and more than 30 percent of those deaths caused by an overdose. Opioid overdoses that do not lead to death are a lot more common than fatal overdoses.

Opioids, including Percocet,  are a huge contributor to overdose because when taken in large quantities they have been found to cause slow breathing that can result in opioid death. Risk factors for an opioid overdose are having an opioid disorder, injecting opioids, experiencing relapse, using prescription opioids without medical supervision, taking a high prescribed dosage, using opioids with other substances, and having a concurrent medical condition. Additional factors that put you at a higher risk for experiencing an opioid overdose are being male, older, and having a low socio-economic status.

The most common signs of an opioid overdose are pinpoint pupils, unconsciousness, and respiratory depression. Additional symptoms of an opioid overdose are a person’s face is extremely pale and clammy to touch, their body goes limp, their fingernails or lips turn blue or purple, they start vomiting or making gurgling noises, their pulse is slow or erratic, their breathing or heartbeat slows or stops, and they cannot be awakened or unable to speak.

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Opioid Overdose Statistics

How many people die from opioids? The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that in 2018 over 128 Americans die by opioid overdose each and every day. The WHO stated that all around the world, an estimated 115,000 people died of opioid overdose in 2017. Additionally, in the United States, drug overdose deaths from prescription opioids rose from 3,442 in 1999 to 17,029 in 2017. Then, from 2017 to 2018 there was a drop to 14,975 people who experienced an opioid death. Since 2016 the number of deaths has remained steady with 14,996 deaths reported in 2018.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists some additional opioid crisis statistics. First,10.3 million people misused prescription opioids in 2018. 47,600 people died from overdosing on opioids in 2018 and 2 million people report having an opioid use disorder. Over the course of a 12-month period, 32,656 people died from overdosing on synthetic opioids other than methadone. Also, opioid overdose accounted for over 42,000 deaths in 2016 in the United States which was more than any other year on record. About 40 percent of those opioid overdose deaths involved prescription opioids.

Opioid Epidemic Facts

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are many causes to the opioid crisis that we see today. The first cause or wave was in the late 1900’s when pharmaceutical companies told the medical community that people would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers. This caused healthcare providers to begin to prescribe opioids more frequently and in larger quantities. The increase in availability of prescription opioid medications led to widespread misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids before people became aware that the drugs were highly addictive.

The second cause or wave no longer involved doctors prescribing opioid medications and started in 2010 with a surge in overdose deaths resulting from heroin. Attempts to control over-prescribing resulted in addicted opioid users looking to other places to get their fix. They turned to cheaper, stronger, and a more available opioid known as heroin. Heroin comes from morphine and is more potent than prescription opioids.

The third cause or wave began in 2013, with another surge in overdose deaths. This time the cause was a synthetic opioid that was illegally created. This drug is known as fentanyl. Fentanyl is cheaper than heroin and is often used for severe cancer pain and anesthesia. This deadly drug has been associated with a spike in deaths from opioid overdose because it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, making it a deadly mixture to any drug. It. Unfortunately, drug dealers are adding fentanyl to increase the potency of their products and it can be found in heroin, counterfeit pills, and even cocaine. Many users who are testing positive for fentanyl are unaware that they even took the substance.

Opioid Prevention

Along with approaches to reducing drug use in the community, the WHO mentions a few other measures to prevent opioid overdose. These include increasing the availability of opioid dependence treatment, reducing irrational or inappropriate opioid prescribing, monitoring opioid prescribing and dispensing, as well as limiting inappropriate over-the-counter sale of opioids.

The Georgia Department of Public Health mentioned that a person can prevent opioid misuse and addiction by never taking more opioid medications than prescribed and always following prescribed directions, stop taking the opioid medication as soon as your doctor determines you no longer need it, and only use the medication only in the form it was prescribed.

Beyond these measures, the best way to prevent an opioid overdose is to educate yourself on the dangers of opioid abuse. Awareness is key to reducing your chances of developing a serious opioid addiction and becoming dependent on the drug.

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Opioid Addiction Treatment

Just because your doctor prescribed you an opioid for your pain does not mean that you will not get addicted to the drug. Prescription opioids are a gateway into darker substances like heroin and fentanyl. Overdose is possible no matter whether your addiction is to prescription opioids, heroin and or fentanyl. Opioid overdose can result in serious, life-threatening consequences.

Any addiction can be managed with treatment. If it is negatively affecting your life, it is time to get help. If you or someone you care about is suffering from an opioid addiction and dependence finding a high-quality rehab can help. Currently, the best treatment for opioid addiction is a combination of medications, counseling, and support from family and friends.

Medications such as methadone and buprenorphine prevent withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings in people who are addicted to opioids. Naloxone is used to treat an opioid overdose because it takes away the high that you would normally get when taking opioids.

When combining medications with behavioral treatment such as individual or group therapy treatment for opioid addiction is more effective. Counseling is a great option for preventing opioid overdose because it works to change a person’s attitudes and behaviors related to drug use. Teaches peoples healthy life skills and helps people stick with other forms of treatment such as medications.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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