Overdose deaths from heroin and opioid painkillers have been steadily increasing every year in America. This has prompted many healthcare workers to get the word out about life-saving options, including the recently developed drug naloxone.
Naloxone reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Administered by intranasal spray, intramuscular (into the muscle), subcutaneous (under the skin) or intravenous injection, it has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) as an opioid agonist medication.1
What Are the Signs of an Opioid Overdose?
A person in the midst of an opioid overdose may experience a range of life-threatening symptoms. Taking too much heroin, morphine, oxycodone or other opioid-based painkillers can cause such overdoses.
A person who has overdosed on opioids may exhibit any of these symptoms:
- May be awake but unable to talk
- Limp body
- Pale face, clammy skin
- Fingernails and lips are blue or purplish black
- Skin tone changes – Lighter skinned people turn bluish purple, and darker skinned people turn gray or ashen.
- Breathing is very slow and shallow or has stopped
- Pulse is slow or not able to be detected
- Choking sounds, gurgling noise
- Unresponsive to outside noise, talking, etc.
When a person exhibits these signs, it is possible to reverse the effects by taking immediate action. Naloxone has been shown to effectively reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, and it is not addictive.2
How Can Naloxone Bring Such Quick Recovery?
Naloxone is an opioid agonist medication that counters the effects of an opioid overdose, allowing the person to breathe normally. The drug only has an effect on people with opioids in their system; it has no effect if there are no opioids present. It works by replacing the opioid chemicals attached to opioid receptors in the brain. The chemicals in naloxone are more strongly attracted to the opioid receptors and able to move the opioid drugs out of the away. This gives the brain and body of opioid users a chance to regain normal function, including restoration of their breathing.2
There’s a Global Movement Toward Use of Naloxone
The United States isn’t the only country experiencing record numbers of opioid overdose deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 70,000 people die every year from such overdoses. In the U.S., more than 15,000 people died from prescription painkiller overdose in 2009, and the number of heroin overdose deaths is growing as well. WHO issued global guidelines in late 2014 urging all countries to increase access to naloxone, particularly areas that are “high risk” for drug abuse.3
With the number of overdose deaths growing, many states have changed laws to make sure that those who are serving in opioid overdose prevention or treatment capacities have access to naloxone. They are provided protection from any criminal prosecution as a result of their treating patients with naloxone. These Good Samaritan laws are active in some form in 30 states and the District of Columbia.4
Recent efforts to increase access to naloxone make a difference. While the drug has been available for more than 40 years, only medical professionals – such as emergency room clinicians and first responders – typically had access to it. Programs to make the drug available to opioid users and their friends and family members are growing as a way to save lives.5
Overall, the Centers for Disease and Prevention found that wider availability of naloxone has prevented more than 10,000 deaths since 1996.3
Getting Good Advice about Opioid Addiction Treatment
Opioid addiction is a serious disease – one that changes a person’s life physically, psychologically, socially and many other ways. While drug dependence may seem like a minor problem to some people, the fact is, it’s very easy for reliance on medication to turn into an addiction…or a deadly overdose. A person who abuses substances as a way to feel better or manage stress is more likely to become addicted or take an overdose.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to opioids or other drugs – possibly with co-occurring mental health conditions – there are treatment solutions that offer healthy ways to bring healing and successful recovery. Don’t let these diseases drag you down and limit your dreams for a brighter future.
We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at our toll-free helpline to answer your questions and offer encouragement and positive options. Opioid addiction can be successfully treated when experienced professionals are at your side to guide you through the process. Get on the path to a better life today.
1 “Naloxone”, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, http://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment/naloxone , (March 3, 2016).
2 “Recognizing Opioid Overdose”, Harm Reduction Coalition, http://harmreduction.org/issues/overdose-prevention/overview/overdose-basics/recognizing-opioid-overdose/ .
3 “Increases in Drug and Opioid Overdose Death – United States, 2000-2014”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6450a3.htm , (January 1, 2016).
4 “State Naloxone and Good Samaritan Legislation, as of July 15, 2014”, Office of National Drug Control Policy, https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/ondcp/Blog/naloxonecirclechart_august2014.pdf .
5 “Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs Providing Naloxone to Laypersons – United States, 2014”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6423a2.htm , (July 19, 2015).