The Drug Overdose Survival Guide
Suspect an Overdose?
In the event of a suspected drug overdose, the best choice is to dial 911 and monitor the person until emergency medical help arrives:
- If they are having a seizure, wait until convulsions have ceased and then attempt to place them in the recovery position until further help can arrive.
- If they have suffered head or neck trauma, do not move them and wait for trained medical professionals.
- While opioids have a widely available and fairly safe treatment for overdoses in the form of naloxone, most other drugs do not.
- Located outside the US? Click here for additional emergency phone numbers by country.
- The approach taken by medical professionals in most cases is to reduce the risks by treating the symptoms of the overdose, and this often requires strong medications that may be potentially dangerous unless administered by a trained medical professional.
What are the Symptoms of a Drug Overdose?
Different drug overdoses will manifest different symptoms. While there may be variability between individual drugs, the main categories of drug overdoses often fit into two distinct categories: depressant and stimulant drug overdoses. While the specifics may vary, in general, depressants will slow vital functions while stimulants will accelerate vital functions, and these are the mechanisms by which overdoses may be fatal.
In the section below you’ll find in-depth drug-specific overdose guides that cover signs and symptoms of overdose and outline prevention strategies and free resources for some of the most dangerous and addictive drugs available today.
With the recent opioid epidemic plaguing the United States there has been an increase in access and availability of the medication Narcan. This medication contains the active ingredient naloxone, an opioid antagonist, that can reverse the effects of opioid drugs. While the exact mechanism is not fully understood, it appears to act as a competitive antagonist, forcing the opioid drugs out of brain receptors and replacing them. This reverses the effects of the drugs including the dangerous depressive effects on breathing, the leading cause of death in opioid overdoses.
- Signs of An Opioid Overdose: Small pupils, shallow or labored breathing, slow and weak pulse, blue-tinged skin, vomiting, confusion, and unconsciousness.
Additional Reading: Opioid Overdose Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment Guide
Alcohol (aka ethanol) can cause dangerous and potentially fatal problems in the event of an overdose. Heart issues, breathing troubles, and metabolic disturbances are common during an overdose, and treatment of these symptoms is usually supportive in nature. There are no known medications that can treat an alcohol overdose, so medical support and monitoring is really the only tactic to use. The body is kept as safe as possible while it metabolizes the alcohol and thereby reduces vital depression and risks.
- Signs of An Alcohol Overdose: Low body temperature, severe confusion and disorientation, irregular or labored breathing, slow and weak pulse, vomiting, blindness, seizures, and coma.
Additional Reading: Alcohol Overdose Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment Guide
Adderall is a very popular ADHD medication, and although it is prescribed to treat this neurological condition, it can still cause dangerous and potentially fatal overdoses. If someone who does not normally do Adderall takes a high dose, even a dose that someone who is prescribed can safely take, then they may suffer an overdose. Additionally, even in people who have been prescribed for long periods, taking a higher-than-prescribed dose of Adderall can result in an overdose. If someone wants to get help after an Adderall overdose, or if they have a problem with Adderall but have not overdosed yet, their best chance of quitting Adderall use safely is with the help of a professional treatment center.
- Signs of An Adderall Overdose: Psychosis, stroke, heart attack, breathing troubles, seizure, irregular heartbeat, seizure, and increased body temperature.
Additional Reading: Adderall Overdose Symptoms, Prevention,& Treatment Guide
Prescription benzodiazepine (benzo) medications such as Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium are common drugs of abuse and, subsequently, overdoses occur. This is especially the case when combined with other drugs like alcohol or opioids as the depressant effects of these drugs may amplify the effect of benzos, or vice-versa. If someone is using benzos, it is crucial to warn them not to use other depressants, as this greatly increases the chance of overdose, and complicates the treatment process.
- Signs of A Benzodiazepine Overdose: Confusion, delirium, unconsciousness, impaired coordination and memory, depressed breathing, and coma.
Additional Reading: Benzo Overdose Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment Guide
Crystal Meth Overdoses
Crystal meth is one of the most potent stimulant drugs known today. A person who overdoses on meth can exhibit hyperactive physical and psychological symptoms. If someone has suffered an overdose on crystal meth, medical help should be summoned immediately.
- Signs of A Crystal Meth Overdose: Intense tremors, convulsive seizures, high fever, excessive sweating, hallucinations, psychosis, labored breathing, chest pain, vomiting, irregular and rapid heart rate, cardiac arrest, stroke, unconsciousness, and coma.
Additional Reading: Meth Overdose Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment Guide
Cocaine is a powerful stimulant drug and overdoses are, unfortunately, fairly common. While cocaine overdoses can range from simply uncomfortable to potentially life-threatening, even the relatively minor overdoses should be treated medically. Even though the symptoms may not seem severe, there is an increased risk of dangerous complications in any cocaine overdose.
- Signs of A Cocaine Overdose: Dilated pupils, high body temperature, rapid heart rate, excessive sweating, chest pain, vomiting, confusion and disorientation, paranoia, hallucinations, seizures, cardiac arrest, and coma.
Additional Reading: Cocaine Overdose Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment Guide
Kratom is still fairly new to America, only becoming popular in the last decade or two. Even so, it is rapidly proving to be a dangerous and potentially deadly drug of abuse. The variety of overdose symptoms and the amount of drug-drug interactions it is capable of producing are major causes for concern.
- Signs of A Kratom Overdose: Small pupils, rapid heart rate, disorientation, slow or labored breathing, vomiting, excessive sweating, unconsciousness, seizures, psychosis, hallucinations, and cardiac arrest.
Commonly known as a “date rape” drug, GHB is also used for recreation. In recent years it has made a comeback in the club-drug scene and, unfortunately, there has been an increase in fatal GHB overdoses.
- Signs of A GHB Overdose: Increased aggression, disorientation, vomiting, loss of coordination, drop in blood pressure, low body temperature, slow pulse, fixed pupils, loss of bowel control, and coma.
Once stabilized, admission to a drug rehab is strongly recommended. Typically the full continuum of care is recommended, which consists of going to a detox center, then residential inpatient treatment, followed by a partial hospitalization program and an intensive outpatient program.
Where Can I Get Naloxone?
Recent laws passed in many states have increased the access and availability of naloxone. Here are some resources to obtain naloxone or information on how to obtain naloxone.
Next Distro: An online overdose education and prevention program designed to inform and provide naloxone resources for the prevention of opioid overdose deaths.
Naloxone Exchange: A delivery naloxone service that will mail naloxone to your address for use in reversing opioid overdoses, and hopefully saving lives.
CVS: Information about what is needed to get naloxone from a CVS pharmacy and includes a step-by-step guide as far as what to do in the event of an overdose.
Walgreens: A guide on where to get naloxone at the nearest Walgreens, information on how to use naloxone, and general educational resources for finding out more about naloxone.
Prevent & Protect: A resource guide that provides a search tool to find naloxone near you, information about using naloxone to prevent overdose deaths, and tools for finding treatment if you or a loved one is using opioid drugs.
GoodRx: A prescription medication discount service, GoodRx provides a resource to find naloxone near you and provides discount coupons to fill the prescription. Their site also features a blog including information on where to get naloxone without a prescription.
National Overdose Resources
Even though overdoses and overdose deaths have been increasing in recent years, there is still a lack of awareness among the general population regarding drug overdoses. These resources aim to increase awareness and provide educational and informative materials so that more people can understand the threat posed by overdoses today.
National Institute on Drug Abuse: This government site provides a wealth of information about naloxone and how it works and resources for finding naloxone in your state.
SAMHSA: This site provides an opioid overdose prevention toolkit for medical professionals, communities, and local governments that provides strategies to reduce opioid overdoses.
International Overdose Awareness Day: An educational and community-focused organization that provides resources and materials to promote overdose awareness as well as overdose fact sheets for information about drug-specific overdoses.
Alcohol and Drug Foundation: General information on overdoses from alcohol and various drugs.
Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs: An overdose overview guide on what steps to take if someone is overdosing, the signs and symptoms of an overdose, and how to avoid overdoses in the first place.
Faces & Voices of Recovery: A resource hub that provides information and toolkits for education about opioids and opioid overdoses. Includes toolkits for creating community organizations and interacting with state governments regarding opioid overdoses and prevention activism.
National Good Samaritan Laws
When someone witnesses an overdose, they may be scared to call for help for fear of legal repercussions; especially if they have been using drugs as well. Thankfully, many states across America have passed amnesty laws, also known as “Good Samaritan” laws that provide legal protection from prosecution if someone has called for emergency services due to a drug overdose. These laws can differ by state, with some states providing wide and far-reaching protection from prosecution while others provide minimal protections. It is highly recommended to investigate the laws in your state to get a clear and concise understanding of the laws that protect you if and when you need to call for emergency help for a drug overdose. Some good starting points for a general overview of these laws in different states include:
Prescription Drug Abuse Policy System: This organization provides comprehensive legal data for researchers and the public and their site provides an extremely helpful “Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Laws” map that provides information on Good Samaritan Laws in all 50 states. The legal information provided on this map is current as of July 1st, 2018.
National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws: A project funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, this page provides comprehensive information on the different Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Statutes in all 50 states including quotes from the laws passed in each state. The information contained on this page is current as of March 1st, 2016.
SAMHSA’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies: This document from SAMHSA, entitled “Preventing the Consequences of Opioid Overdose: Understanding 911 Good Samaritan Laws” provides an explanation of some of the legal jargon contained within these overdose prevention and Good Samaritan laws to help people better understand the protections that these laws afford. The information contained within this document is accurate as of November 8th, 2017.
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