Opioid Abuse

When you have very bad pain, your doctor may order a strong drug known as an opioid (also known as a narcotic). Your doctor may have ordered an opioid to treat short-term pain like after a surgery or long-term pain like after an injury. There are also other kinds of opioid that are not legal and sold on the street. These are drugs like heroin.

Opioids act on parts of your brain to block pain. These drugs can also cause other reactions in your brain to slow your breathing, change your mood, and make it hard for you to think and make decisions. Most often, your doctor will want you to use an opioid pain drug only for a short time.

You may find you need more of the drug to get the same effects if you use the drug for a long time. This can put you more at risk for overdosing. It is important to carefully measure your dose each time. This will help you avoid taking too much medicine by accident, causing signs of an overdose.

Some people take too much of these drugs to get a feeling of euphoria or to "get high." This can also put you at a higher risk for overdose. With an overdose, it is important to get care right away. This may help to avoid very bad physical or mental problems, and even death. With the right care and counseling, you may get better and go back to leading a healthy life.

Learn More about Opioid Abuse

  • Accidental overdose
  • Taking the drug over and over without the need for it
  • Taking a larger dose of the drug to feel high

You are at a higher risk for an opioid overdose if you:

  • Mix opioid with other drugs or alcohol.
  • Get opioid from more than one source or take them for more than one problem at a time.
  • Have a history of mental illness or drug abuse.
  • Take large doses or take doses more often than you should.
  • Very sleepy or not able wake up
  • Slurred speech or not able to talk
  • Not breathing or breathing is very slow
  • Making snoring or gurgling sounds when breathing
  • Itchy skin or skin color changes
  • Lips or nails turn blue

The doctor will do an exam and look for signs of overdose. This may include checking mental status, breathing rate, and looking at the pupils of your eyes. The doctor may order urine or blood tests.

The doctor may give drugs to try to reverse the effects of the opioids. Other care may also be given to help keep heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure normal.

The doctor may order medicines to:

  • Reverse the effects of the opioid
  • Help ease signs of withdrawing from the drug you were using
  • Prevent returning to drug abuse
  • Help block cravings for the drug you were using

These drugs come in different strengths and may sound alike. Always be sure to check and make sure you are taking the right dose of the right drug.

Drug withdrawal. These are the signs that happen when you quickly stop taking drugs that you have used for a long time. Get the help of your doctor and counselor to check you and help with drug withdrawal.

  • Mood problems
  • Worry
  • Upset stomach and throwing up
  • Sleep problems
  • Problems with thinking
  • Liver problems
  • You go back to using the drug
  • Death
  • Learn about the risks of the drugs before using them. Prescription medicines are helpful in treating a specific problem. They are strong and can make people want to take them much longer than they in fact need to.
  • The drug naloxone stops the effects of opioids and can prevent death from an opioid overdose. This drug is available in some places without a prescription. It is very important to still get medical care if naloxone has been given.
  • If you or someone in your house uses opioids, you might want to keep naloxone at home. You may be able to buy it at the drug store or your doctor can order it. This drug stops the effects of opioids and may help stop death from an opioid overdose. It comes as a nose spray or a shot that you can give. Learn how and when to use it in case of an overdose.
  • Do not take more than the ordered amount of any drug.
  • When giving drugs to a child, use a dosing cup or syringe to avoid an overdose.
  • Do not leave drugs where a child or pet could find them.
  • Ask for help when you have problems with worry, fear, low mood, helplessness, or other mental problems.
  • Avoid people who are using illegal drugs. Also, avoid those who think it is OK to use drugs without a medical reason.
  • Learn how to handle peer pressure. This is not an easy task, but learn to say no. Take yourself out of places where you feel pressured to take drugs or drink alcohol.
  • Promote strong healthy family ties and friendships. This way you and your children may lower the chance of drug use.

If you think someone has overdosed:

  • Call 911 in the United States or Canada. The sooner treatment begins, the better their chances for recovery.
  • Let them know you think the person has overdosed.
  • Administer Naloxone (Narcan) if available
  • Do rescue breathing (mouth to mouth) if the person is not breathing or is breathing very slowly.
  • Lay the person on their side.
  • Stay with the person until help comes. Death is more common when no one is there to help.