Heroin Overdose Signs & Treatment

Heroin is a prevalently used illicit opioid. In the United States, approximately 1 million people ages 12 and older used heroin in 2022, while within that same year, 900,000 had a heroin use disorder.1 This substance, derived from morphine, is highly addictive and poses significant overdose risk for those who use it.2

This article will focus on heroin overdose, including signs, symptoms, and risk factors for heroin overdose, as well as the added dangers associated with fentanyl-laced heroin and how you can help someone who is overdosing on heroin.

Heroin Overdose Signs & Symptoms

A heroin overdose can happen when someone consumes too much heroin, compromising the body’s natural ability to breathe on its own.2 This results in dangerously slowed breathing and subsequent lack of oxygen to the brain, which can ultimately result in brain damage or even death.2,3

Individuals who are experiencing a heroin overdose may exhibit several telltale signs, which can include:3,4

  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Constricted, or pinpoint, pupils.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Slowed heart rate.
  • Vomiting or making gurgling sounds.
  • Limp body.
  • Blue or purple fingernails or lips.
  • Cold or clammy skin.

What to Do If Someone is Overdosing on Heroin

Determining whether a person is experiencing a heroin overdose or not can be difficult.3 If you are unsure, it is important to treat the situation as if the individual is overdosing, as doing so can save their life.3

If someone is overdosing on heroin or you think it is possible that an overdose is occurring, call 911 immediately. Additional steps you can take to help include the following:3

  • If available, administer naloxone
  • Attempt to keep the person awake and breathing
  • Place the person in the recovery position (on their side) to prevent choking
  • Stay with the person until emergency medical services arrive

A heroin overdose is a life-threatening medical emergency. Do not hesitate to call 911 if you suspect that someone is overdosing. Most states have laws in place that protect those who call for help during an overdose from suffering any legal repercussions.5 Therefore, regardless of your potential involvement, calling 911 is the first and most imperative action to take. 

Naloxone for Heroin Overdose 

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist medication that, when administered in time, can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.6 It may be administered as a nasal spray (Narcan, Kloxxado) or as an injection, and is effective for approximately 30-90 minutes after administration.6

It is vital to seek emergency medical attention even after administering naloxone, as its antidote effects may wear off faster than the life-threatening effects of opioids like heroin.6 This means that even if naloxone is administered, the respiratory depression associated with heroin or other type of opioid overdose may re-emerge when the effects wear off.6

Heroin Overdose Risk Factors

Many types of opioid use can put people at risk of overdose, however there are several factors that can contribute to the chances of an overdose occurring.7 One of the most dangerous situations that may increase the risk of heroin and other opioid overdose involves the simultaneous use of other substances, including sedating drugs such as benzodiazepines and .8,9 Additional risk factors for heroin overdose include:7

  • Using higher doses of heroin.
  • Returning to a high dose of heroin after tolerance been lost.
  • Being of older age (specifically 65+).
  • Having kidney or liver failure.
  • Having sleep-disordered breathing, such as sleep apnea.
  • Having a history of substance use disorder.

Heroin Laced with Fentanyl

Many drugs, including heroin, can be laced with fentanyl, an opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.10 Considering its high potency, some drug dealers add fentanyl to other drugs, allowing them to expand their drug supply and increase their overall profit, as it only takes a small amount of fentanyl to produce a powerful high.10

While some people are aware that their drugs contain fentanyl, others are not, which may additionally increase overdose risk.10 Currently, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the most common substances involved in fatal drug overdoses.10

Heroin Addiction Treatment in Oxford, MS

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to heroin, do not lose hope. Reach out to our team at our inpatient drug and alcohol rehab in Mississippi right now to learn more about how we can help. By calling , you will be connected to one of our experienced, compassionate rehab admissions navigators who can help provide answers to your questions regarding how to pay for rehab, levels of addiction treatment we offer, and more.

Do not let one more day go by without getting the help you or your loved one deserves. Contact us today to get started on the road to recovery.

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