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Overdose Prevention

*from the Harm Reduction Coalition

What is an Overdose?

Overdose (OD) happens when a toxic amount of a drug, or combination of drugs overwhelms the body. Heroin and other downers affect the body's central nervous system, which slows breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate, and in turn reduces body temperature. In an opiate overdose, the breathing slows to the point of respiratory arrest where the lack of oxygen to the brain leads to the loss of consciousness, coma, or death. In a stimulant overdose drugs like speed, cocaine, and ecstasy raise the heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, and speed up breathing. This can lead to a seizure, stroke, heart attack or death.

Anyone who uses drugs can overdose, from the first-time user to the veteran. But overdoses don't have to be fatal!
The highest risk for overdose come when:


-Drugs are mixed (poly-substance use)
-Drugs taken together can interact in ways that increase their overall effect. Using drugs that have the same effects on the body can be deadly. Such combinations include cocaine with other stimulants like speed and ecstasy, or using alcohol with heroin and other downers. Many overdoses occur when people mix heroin and/or alcohol with benzodiazepines such as Klonopin, Valium, and Xanax. Most fatal overdoses are the result of poly-drug use.

If someone is overdosing their symptoms may look like this...

May be awake, but unable to talk
Body is very limp
Face is very pale or clammy
Fingernails and lips turn blue or purple
Breathing is very slow and shallow, erratic, or has stopped
Pulse (heartbeat) is slow, erratic, or not there at all
Choking sounds, or a gurgling noise
Loss of consciousness
Unresponsive to outside stimulus
Pressure, tightness or pain in chest
Difficulty breathing
Headache, ringing in the ears, dizziness
Foaming at the mouth
Profuse sweating, or failure to sweat
Racing pulse
Grossly enlarged pupils
Muscle cramps
Inability to urinate
Nausea and vomiting
Shaking, or seizures
Loss of consciousness

Depressants and sedatives slow down your heart rate and breathing. A person who overdoses on a depressant may pass out, stop breathing, or choke on their vomit—any of which can lead to death. Sometimes you can hear a person's raspy breathing and know they're having problems. If they've stopped breathing, you may not know it, but if they begin to turn blue, they may be very close to dying and need immediate attention—rescue breathing or CPR. The most important thing is to act right away and don't hesitate to call 911!

If the person is still conscious, walk them around, keep them awake, and monitor their breathing. If they pass out and become unresponsive call 911!

If the person is unconscious, try to wake them up by calling their name, or yelling "Narcan!"If they do not respond try waking them with pain stimulus by pinching their ear, under their arm, or rubbing their sternum with your knuckles. Be sure to check their breathing. Put your face over theirs and feel for air against your cheek while watching to see if their chest rises and falls. If they are not breathing, put the person in the recovery position and go call 911!
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