Opioid Overdose Signs & Risks

All opioids—even prescription drugs used to treat medical conditions—carry the risk of overdose. In 2021, 16,706 people overdosed on prescription opioids in the United States, a 1.77% increase from the previous year.1

In this article, we will discuss prescription opioid overdose and how it is treated. We will also provide information about how to seek treatment for opioid addiction.

Opioid Overdose

An opioid overdose causes someone’s rate of respiration to slow considerably or stop altogether, reducing the flow of oxygen to the brain, potentially leading to coma or death.2

Misusing prescription opioids or using illicit drugs like heroin or illegal fentanyl increases the risk of overdose.

A person who misuses opioids may take too much of the drug, its effects overwhelming their body’s systems.3 This can happen when someone intentionally takes a higher dose than directed or uses it in a way other than intended (e.g., crushing and snorting a pill, which can bypass extended release mechanisms intended to release the drug slowly vs. all at once.).2

Another common cause of opioid overdose is when someone uses a prescription opioid drug with a central nervous system depressant, like benzodiazepines or alcohol.3 Sometimes people combine drugs on purpose to enhance or mitigate certain effects.4

Other times, someone may not be aware of the substances in the drugs they’ve taken. Prescription pills sold on the street, for example, are often counterfeit and may contain illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF), which can cause overdose in very small doses.5

Signs of Opioid Overdose

Opioid overdose requires immediate medical attention; recognizing the signs and responding quickly can save someone’s life.3 Signs of an opioid overdose can include:3

  • Paleness in the face with skin clammy to the touch.
  • Body going limp.
  • Fingernails or lips turning purple or blue.
  • Vomiting, or making gurgling noises.
  • Difficulty awakening the person from a loss of consciousness.
  • Breathing or heart rate slows or stops.

Opioid Overdose Treatment

If you suspect that someone is having an opioid overdose:6

  1. Call 911 for emergency medical attention.3
  2. Administer Narcan (naloxone) if it is available. Narcan, is a nasal spray medication that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.4 If the patient does not respond within 2-3 minutes, administer another dose.
  3. Support the patient’s breathing by making sure their airway is clear and, if needed, performing rescue breathing and chest compressions.3
  4. Roll the patient on their side and bend their top knee to prevent them from choking on vomit.
  5. Wait for emergency responders to arrive. Medical support is still needed even if the patient regains consciousness.

Opioid Addiction

Having an opioid use disorder (OUD)—the clinical term for opioid addiction—is a major risk factor for experiencing an overdose.8 OUD is characterized by the compulsive use of opioids despite negative consequences.9

Many people need treatment to overcome an opioid addiction. Treatment typically involves a combination of evidence-based treatment approaches like medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), behavioral therapy, peer support, and more.10

Opioid Addiction Treatment Near Oxford, MS

Oxford Treatment Center, our inpatient drug and alcohol rehab in Mississippi, we offer multiple levels of substance use treatment, including:

We also offer specialized programs for veterans, trauma survivors, and couples.

For more information, contact our helpful admissions navigators today at for a free, private phone consultation. Our team will answer any questions you have about rehab admissions, health insurance coverage, and ways to pay for rehab.

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