What is an Overdose?
An overdose is when too much of a drug (or drugs) in a person’s body and it affects their body’s ability to maintain basic functions needed for life (such as breathing, heart rate and body temperature regulation). In an opioid overdose, what usually happens is that a person’s breathing slows or stops. Not everyone who overdoses will die but there can be long-term effects such as brain damage from lack of oxygen.
Who can Overdose?
Anyone who uses substances (whether they are a new or long-term user) can overdose. A person may be more at risk of an overdose depending on:
- Substance(s) taken
- How much of a substance or substances were taken
- How strong and the quality of the substance(s) used
- If the substance(s) were cut with other drugs
- How the substance(s) were taken (i.e. orally, snorted, injected, etc.)
- Tolerance to the substance(s) used
- Health status (if there are any existing medical conditions)
- Setting where use occurs (e.g. using alone versus in a group)
- New supply or buying from a new dealer.
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Recognizing an Opioid Overdose
Remember that drugs may be combined, so you might see other symptoms. Signs of an opioid overdose include:
- Slow, erratic or no breathing
- Blue lips, nails or skin
- Limp body
- Pinpoint pupils
- Cold, clammy skin
- Doesn’t respond to shouting or shaking
- Deep snoring or gurgling sounds
- Loss of consciousness
*The difference between “the nods” and an overdose is unresponsiveness (not responding to shouting, shaking, etc.)
Responding to an Opioid Overdose
- Stimulate (shake shoulders, shout)
- Call 911
- Give Naloxone
- Chest compressions and rescue breathing
- Check (give another dose of naloxone after 3-5 minutes if no change)
The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit provides training and naloxone kits. See Naloxone Kits for more information.