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recognize opioid overdose

How to Recognize an Opioid Overdose

Recognizing an Overdose Early Can Save a Life

It is a sad but true fact that opiate addiction has been steadily on the rise since the early 2000s. This means that the rates of overdose have also been steadily climbing. In fact, the problem has become so widespread that law enforcement and medical professionals are labeling it an epidemic.

The World Health Organization estimates that at least 69,000 people across the globe die from opiate overdoses each year. To help curb this number, we believe it is important that everyone is educated about this class of drugs as well as the symptoms and how to help someone who may be experiencing an overdose. Continue reading to find out how opioids affect a person, how to recognize an opioid overdose, and what steps to take to help save someone’s life. 

What is an Opioid?

Opioids are a category of painkillers that include well-known drugs such as heroin, morphine, OxyContin, Vicodin, methadone and tramadol. Due to the nature of these drugs, it is easy to become dependent on them if a person is not under careful medical supervision.

Most often, these types of drugs are given to people who have serious surgeries, significant injuries or chronic pain, but substances like heroin are most often introduced on the streets, sometimes when a person is unable to get more of their prescribed opioids.

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recognize opioid overdhose

How Do Opioids Affect a Person?

Opiates bind to certain receptors in the brain that help to block pain signals and make the user feel relaxed. When used in a managed setting, they are excellent tools for people who suffer from intense pain.

Issues arise when people take too much at once or begin to use the drugs as a way to escape from real life.

How to Recognize an Opioid Overdose

There are several telltale signs that a person is experiencing an opioid overdose.

Physical signs include:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Bluish tint around fingernails or lips
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Vomiting or painful constipation
  • Inability to be woken from sleep
  • Slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Unusual paleness
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Confusion or drunken behavior

If you encounter someone with these symptoms, it is critical to contact emergency medical services right away because the person’s life is in immediate danger. Opiate overdoses can kill a person quickly, so every moment counts.

How to Help Someone Who Has Overdosed

Though you should immediately call 911 when you recognize an overdose, there are steps you can take to assist the person until help arrives.

If the person is unconscious, roll him or her to one side. This helps prevent people from choking if they vomit while unconscious. If the person is still conscious, do your best to keep the person talking to you and don’t let him or her fall asleep. Because these drugs slow breathing functions, allowing an overdosed person to fall asleep can lead to cessation of breathing.

Don’t leave the person alone if you can help it. A conscious person will be delirious and can easily get into a dangerous situation, and an unconscious person may stop breathing. If left unattended, you won’t be able to administer rescue breathing if necessary.

There is also a treatment for these overdoses called naloxone. This is something that emergency rooms have used for many years to help reverse these types of overdoses, especially heroin-related ones. Due to the dramatic increase in overdose deaths, however, it is now common for emergency medical personnel and even caregivers to carry naloxone with them.

Naloxone comes in nasal spray and injectable forms and can give the overdosed person up to an hour’s respite from overdose symptoms. This does not stop the overdose permanently, so it is still important to call emergency responders to give the person lifesaving medical treatment. In addition, following an overdose, the person will likely require some sort of opioid addiction treatment to ensure that they don’t use heroin or other opioids again once they have recovered from the overdose.

Encountering an opioid overdose can be a frightening experience, but learning how to recognize the signs and give assistance can save lives.

U.S. Dept. of Health Continues Fight Against Opioid Addiction

painkillersThe United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced earlier this month new efforts to make an impact on the opioid problem in America. There were three main areas of focus included in this announcement, which were improving prescribing practices, increasing access to medication-assisted treatment and making naloxone more widely available for emergencies.

With this came what many consider the big news that doctors who are approved to prescribe buprenorphine have been able to more than double the number of people they can treat at a time. They were previously limited to 100 patients, but the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) just raised that cap to 275 patients.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell stated, “The opioid epidemic is one of the most pressing public health issues in the United States. More Americans now die from drug overdoses than car crashes, and these overdoses have hit families from every walk of life and across our entire nation. At HHS, we are helping to lead the nationwide effort to address the opioid epidemic by taking a targeted approach focused on prevention, treatment, and intervention.”

The part that seems to stand out as having the greatest overall impact is the changing of prescribing practices by doctors who give out painkillers. Opiates have been too heavily relied on to treat various pain conditions, while at the same time underestimating their abuse and addiction potential, and a major overhaul is sorely needed.

In the meantime, wider availability and use of medications that like naloxone and buprenorphine can help to reduce the damage caused by painkillers and other opiates so that there is a better chance at rehabilitation. Most people want, and deserve, long-term fixes for opioid problems rather than temporary patches.

If you or someone you love has a problem with painkillers, heroin or any other type of drug, contact Desert Cove Recovery today to see how we can help.

More Pharmacies Offering Naloxone Without a Prescription

naloxone formulaBig news hit recently when CVS drug store became the first pharmacy to announce that they were going to be offering naloxone for sale without a prescription. The opioid overdose problem has gotten so bad that this life-saving drug is now available direct to consumers in some areas.

Kroger, one of the nation’s largest supermarket chains, also just announced that they would be making naloxone available to the general public through its pharmacies as well. “This marks an important step in our fight to combat addiction and we all need to continue to work for a bottom-up, comprehensive approach to the heroin epidemic,” said U.S. Senator Rob Portman, (R) OH.

While the drug isn’t available over the counter everywhere yet, states like Ohio and Kentucky, where the per capita opioid overdose rates are even higher, have been more eager to act on providing additional palliative measures for the epidemic. Legislators, law enforcement officials and other community leaders are coming together to try and address the problem from multiple sides.

While making naloxone available over the counter directly to the public will certainly help save many lives from overdose, it is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the amount of action and effort needed to reverse the opiate abuse trend throughout the United States. Yes, each bit helps, but perhaps investing in more treatment infrastructure will make the most sense long term in addition to amped up prevention programs.

Nonetheless, having tens of thousands of people die each year from an overdose on heroin or prescription painkillers is unacceptable, and it will take more forward thinkers to develop other initiatives to made headway against this scourge.

CVS Pharmacy to Offer Naloxone Without a Prescription in Multiple States

nalxIt appears that CVS pharmacy chain is continuing to trail blaze in its commitment to advocating for better health conditions in the United States. They recently took a giant step by announcing that they were going to stop selling cigarettes in their stores, and now they have just announced that they are expanding their offering of the life-saving drug naloxone.

Naloxone is typically only available by prescription, but CVS is making it accessible to consumers without a prescription in 15 states, including Arkansas, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

With the drastic increase in opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States tied to drugs like narcotic painkillers and heroin, many officials throughout different parts of the country have advocated for making naloxone more available to people to help prevent casualties.

“Over 44,000 people die from accidental drug overdoses every year in the United States and most of those deaths are from opioids, including controlled substance pain medication and illegal drugs such as heroin. Naloxone is a safe and effective antidote to opioid overdoses and by providing access to this medication in our pharmacies without a prescription in more states, we can help save lives,” said Tom Davis, RPh, Vice President of Pharmacy Professional Practices at CVS/pharmacy. “While all 7,800 CVS/pharmacy stores nationwide can continue to order and dispense naloxone when a prescription is presented, we support expanding naloxone availability without a prescription and are reviewing opportunities to do so in other states.”

The pharmacy chain has also expanded its support of prescription drug take-back programs by providing more collection kits to local law enforcement and assisting in DEA-sponsored events.

The White House Plan for Opiate Addiction

President Obama has explained how he wants to make a dent in the amount of prescription drug abuse in our country recently. In order to lower the amount of people addicted to drugs like Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet and heroin, the Administration has three main issues that it wants to address.

One of the areas is to repordedly put a greater focus on prescription monitoring drug tools. He wants to put more money towards improving and adding additional drug treatment programs around the country and he wants to explore making drugs like naloxone more available throughout the country to first responders and families with heroin addicts.

Prescription monitoring tools are essential to thwarting an addict’s attempt at obtaining medications illegally. These programs allow doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement to keep a better eye on painkiller prescriptions. For those with access to the program, they can see who is prescribed what, by whom and where they are filling their prescriptions. They also allow doctors to see if their patient has recently been to another doctor and obtained a prescription for opiates. Oftentimes, in order to evade suspicion, addicts will fill their prescriptions at different pharmacies. This tool would allow pharmacists to see if the person had recently filled the same prescription somewhere else. Many states have invested money in instituting a prescription monitoring program, however not everyone uses the tool, which essentially renders it ineffective. Obama wants to put more of a focus on getting these programs running and actually used everywhere.

More than $100 million in additional funding is being requested to fighting the drug abuse problem. Part of that money would be given to rehabilitation centers and states that need to establish more treatment beds. Many addicts have a difficult time enrolling in treatment because of the long wait lists at publicly-supported rehabilitation facilities. Creating more beds would allow greater access to treatment for people in need of help.

Naloxone is a drug that, when administered, reverses the effects of an opiate overdose. Currently some states have allowed their law enforcement officers and emergency medical personnel to carry around prescriptions of the drug to administer if they are first on the scene of an overdose. Obama wants to explore this further and potentially make carrying naloxone a national thing, rather than just a few states.

Naloxone-Carrying First Responders Are Saving Lives

nasalnarcanFirst responders in Quincy, Massachusetts have been trained to administer Narcan (a brand of naloxone) to people who have overdosed on opiate narcotics such as heroin, methadone and prescription painkillers. These paramedics and police officers have been able to save many lives, according to a news report.

Every police cruiser in the down is now equipped with two doses of nasal Narcan. Since they started carrying the doses, officers have used it successfully 170 out of 179 times over the past three years. The article notes that of the remaining nine, five of the people had already passed away before it was administered and the other four had used multiple substances.

Overdose deaths from opiates have increased exponentially across the country and reached nearly 20,000 per year, which is more than the number of lives lost to AIDS or homicides.

Providing safety measures such as making naloxone available to first responders nationwide could potentially help save thousands of lives per year. While this by no means is enough, many advocates, treatment professionals and policy makers feel that it is important to use as many tools as possible to prevent the loss of life through substance abuse.

Opiate users often seek treatment after an overdose, which should halt the drug use if the right program is matched up to the individual. If you know of someone in need of treatment for heroin addiction, painkillers or any other type of drug, contact us today.