Opioids work by binding to specific receptors in the brain, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract. In doing so, they minimize the body’s perception of pain. However, stimulating the opioid receptors or "reward centers" in the brain also can trigger other systems of the body, such as those responsible for regulating mood, breathing and blood pressure.
Opioid overdose can occur when a patient deliberately misuses a prescription opioid or an illicit drug such as heroin. It also can occur when a patient takes an opioid as directed, but the prescriber miscalculated the opioid dose or an error was made by the dispensing pharmacist or the patient misunderstood the directions for use.
Also at risk is the person who takes opioid medications prescribed for someone else, as is the individual who combines opioids — prescribed or illicit — with alcohol, certain other medications, and even some over-the-counter products that depress breathing, heart rate, and other functions of the central nervous system.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Anyone who uses opioids for long-term management of chronic cancer or non-cancer pain is at risk for opioid overdose, as are persons who use heroin. Others at risk include persons who are:
Tolerance develops when someone uses an opioid drug regularly, so that their body becomes accustomed to the drug and needs a larger or more frequent dose to continue to experience the same effect.
occurs when someone stops taking an opioid after long-term use. When someone loses tolerance and then takes the opioid drug again, they can experience serious adverse effects, including overdose, even if they take an amount that caused them no problem in the past.
*adapted from the SAMHSA Opioid Overdose Tool Kit
How do I recognize signs of an opioid overdose?
What should I do if I see an overdose?
Call 911 immediately Say “I think someone may have overdose.” If the person isn’t breathing, do rescue (mouth-to-mouth) breathing by pinching the nose and blowing into the mouth Administer naloxone (Narcan) if you have it Lay the person on their side once they have resumed breathing Stay with the overdosed person until the ambulance arrives
Health officials urge people dealing with heroin or other opioid problems to get treatment. Medication assisted treatment using FDA-approved treatments such as methadone, buprenorphine and extended release naltrexone can effectively treat heroin/opioid addictions and enable people to recover to healthy, productive lives. Those seeking treatment can find help by calling 800-662-HELP (4357) or online at http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/index.aspx.
Content Last Modified on 6/17/2014 5:09:04 PM