In 2016 nearly 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in this country. To put this number into its proper perspective, this is roughly 5,000 more casualties than occurred to Americans during the Vietnam War, a war that lasted 20 years. To further put this into perspective, this means that every day over 500 people died from a drug overdose.
Of the 64,000 drug related overdose deaths in 2016, over 15,000 were attributed to heroin use, 14,000 were attributed to natural or semi-synthetic opioids, 3,000 were attributed to methadone, and over 20,000 were attributed to Fentanyl, which marked a large increase for deaths related to that drug.
The most horrifying thing about these statistics is the rise of fentanyl and how this has played a major role in the increase in overall overdoses throughout the country. Whereas in the past individual who were abusing heroin were semi-aware of what it was they were about to use, over the past 3 years we have seen a rise of foreign manufactured fentanyl hitting the streets, a drug that is 50 times stronger than heroin, and it is being mixed with heroin and sold as such.
The issue here is that since fentanyl is so much stronger than heroin, many heroin addicts, who have been used to doing a certain amount of the drug and being fine, experienced fatal overdoses due to the increased toxicity.
The Opioid Epidemic, as this problem is now known, has become such a problem that drugs like Naloxone, which is used to counteract the effects of an opiate or opioid overdose have become household names, and first responders throughout the country spend much of their shift responding to overdose calls and administering the drug.
So what exactly has lead us to this point where we as a country are allowing, if that can truly be said, so many individuals to die each year. How is it that we haven’t truly begun to tackle this problem, because although on a micro-level addiction rests with the individual, on a macro-level it is often times symptomatic of a sick society? It is often times the result of a society that has criminalized addiction and in doing so, creates an environment where fentanyl can be peddled to addicts everywhere, without much recourse by the federal government. It should be noted that on a local level many law enforcement agencies do tremendous work in attempting to thwart the progression of addiction in their communities and reach out to addicted populations, but on the whole we are still severely lacking in this department.
With all of that said, and in the interest of tackling the problem from where we currently stand, lets take a look at some practical knowledge that can help in the immediacy of this issue and look at opiate overdose-warnings and how to spot them. Hopefully this information will allow you to educate yourself on this matter and in doing so, you may be able to act if you witness an overdose occurring.
Preemptive Opiate Overdose-Warnings
Before looking at the opiate overdose-warnings that occur immediately before or during an overdose, let’s take a look at some of the signs that an individual is abusing opiates, which in turn could lead to an overdose. The most common signs that opiate addiction is occurring are:
Needle, or track marks on the arms, legs, or hands
One of the easiest to spot preemptive opiate overdose-warnings is if your loved one has track marks on their arms, legs, or hands. This is usually caused by intravenously using heroin or other opiates and it can be tremendously dangerous.
One of the most prominent symptoms of opiate use is constricted, or small pupils. This is does not mean that they are out in the sun and their pupils get small, but rather that no matter where they are they exhibit the same constricted pupils. There is nothing that an opiate user can do to hide this symptom, so if you suspect that your loved one is using opiates, pay attention to their pupil size.
Having difficulty staying awake, or nodding out at inappropriate times
One of the most blatant symptoms of opiate use is nodding off or a temporary loss of consciousness. This essentially looks like the individual is just falling asleep but it usually while they are in the middle of a sentence or while they are performing some action that should keep them awake. If you notice that your loved one appears to be falling asleep in this manner and at random times then they may be suffering from opiate addiction.
Drastic Weight loss and Change in Physical Appearance
Most opiate addicts, especially those that are further along in their addiction, are unable to mask their physical appearance. They more then likely look pale, grey, and sickly and they more then likely are dramatically underweight. This is not always the case, but if you find that your loved one has lost a good deal weigh and their appearance has changed quick a bit, then they may be suffering from an opiate addiction.
Withdrawing from social activities and society
Another one of the common signs of opiate abuse is withdrawing from social engagement or activities that you once loved. This is something that can occur slowly over time, or in a quick and sudden burst, but when it comes to opiate addiction, individuals almost always begin to isolate themselves. There are a number of reasons that this occurs, but mainly it is because the individual needs to hide the fact that they are using opiates, which can be tremendously difficult, and because they have to devote a great deal of time to their addiction. This means that almost anything that does not contribute to the addiction itself must be put aside so that the can maintain their using.
If your loved is abusing opiates, then there is a fairly good possibility that they will begin to steal from you and the household. This sort of comes with the territory of addiction, and while no addict wants to steal, it is something that many have to do in order to keep their addiction going. Since being addicted to opiates is so expensive, many times addicts will resort to stealing from those closest to them, because they know that they will more than likely not face legal troubles as a result and because of their proximity to the money or items.
Sudden and dramatic mood swings that seem out of character
This is probably the most glaring sign of opiate abuse in an individual and it will appear at times that you cannot predict what type of mood your loved one will be in at any given moment of time. If the opiate addict is a teenager it may be easy enough to attribute these mood swings to hormones, but when it comes to opiate addiction, the overall mood change is so dramatic, from whom the person was to who they currently are, that it is fairly undeniable that something is going on. If you notice as well that your loved one can go from being almost manic to quiet and depressed, then this may be indicative of an opiate problem.
The above listed warning signs are in regards to an individual who is abusing opiates, which unfortunately given the current climate of addiction in this country means that they could potentially experience an overdose at some point in the future, but what is equally as important is understanding opiate overdose-warnings from when an overdoses is occurring or about to occur.
Witnessing an overdose can be a terribly frightening event and many people, unless they are medically trained are either totally unaware of what they are witnessing, or they are unaware of what they should in this instance. So with that said, let’s take a look at some of the opiate overdose-warnings that usually precede or occur during an overdose.
Marked confusion, including delirium or hallucination
There is a difference between the confusion expressed during an overdose and the confusion expressed during “normal” heroin usage. For instance when an individual is experiencing an overdose they may appear to be fully conscious and awake but if you look in their eyes you will notice that there is nothing there. Beyond this, they may be up and talking, but have no idea where they are or what is going on. If this is occurring then that individual may be experiencing an opiate overdose
Shallow or irregular breathing
When an individual begins to experience shallow or irregular breathing, it means that their condition is deteriorating rather quickly, and if nothing is done in a quickly, then it could lead to fatal consequences. So at the first sign that an individual is exhibiting labored or shallow breathing, it is best to call the paramedics, rather than risk a serious medical issue.
If an individual is experiencing respiratory arrest then that means that they are no longer breathing. When this occurs action must be taken immediately and you should call 9-1-1 right then and there. This means that the individual in question is experiencing an overdose and something must be done in order to counteract this.
Repeated vomiting is the body’s way of attempting to expel the substance that is currently poisoning it. However it poses two threats to an individual who is experiencing an overdose. One is they run the risk of becoming dehydrated, and in their already weakened state this could be very dangerous, and two they run the risk of losing consciousness and asphyxiating on their own vomit.
Sporadic loss of consciousness
An opiate user who is experiencing an overdose may appear semi-lucid at some moments before lapsing back into unconsciousness. This is similar to when an individual is nodding out during opiate usage, but when it comes to overdoses these lapses into unconsciousness are more pronounced and it is almost impossible to wake the individual. In these brief lucid moments they may attempt to tell you that they are fine, because they are afraid of having their overdose exposed, but do not listen to them and immediately call 9-1-1. You may be tempted to put the individual in a cold bath in order to try to arouse them from their lethargy, but under no circumstances should you do this, as it could cause them to go into shock or they could drown if you leave the room for a minute.
Cold or clammy skin
Having cold or clammy skin is one of the most pronounced opiate overdose-warnings, and if you come upon an individual that you believe to be having an overdose and find that their skin is cold and clammy to the touch, you should immediately call for help. Having cold or clammy skin means that individual is in severe medical danger and they need intervention as quickly as possible.
Bluish skin around the lips or fingernails
In movies you will often see overdose victims with a bluish tint to their skin, and this is the case in real life as well. It can be horrifying to see someone in this state and it means that they are currently not receiving oxygen throughout their body, and if this is the case call 9-1-1 immediately and ask the operator what, if anything you should do.
Complete loss of consciousness
Lastly and one of the worst signs of an opiate overdose is complete loss of consciousness. This means that no matter what you have done you are unable to wake the individual up. At this point they may be in respiratory arrest and showing the other signs on this list as well, and so when this occurs it is imperative that you call for help immediately. Do not try to continue to wake them up, just stop what you are doing, get your phone and call for help. The 9-1-1 operator will be able to better direct your actions and will be able to dispatch help to your current location.