Opioids include both heroin as well as prescription medications used to treat pain such as morphine, codeine, methadone, oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percodan, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Norco), fentanyl (Duragesic, Fentora), hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo), and buprenorphine (Subutex, Suboxone). The following are some common risk factors for opioid overdose as well as some prevention strategies:
Many overdoses occur when people mix heroin or prescription opioids with alcohol and/or benzodiazepines. Alcohol and benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan and Valium) are particularly dangerous because, like opioids, these substances impact an individual’s ability to breathe. Avoid mixing opioids with other drugs or alcohol. If prescribed an opioid and a benzodiazepine by a prescriber, take only as directed.
Tolerance is your body’s ability to process a drug. Tolerance changes over time so that you may need more of a drug to feel its effects. Tolerance can decrease rapidly when someone has taken a break from using an opioid. When someone loses tolerance and then takes an opioid again, they are at-risk for an overdose, even if they take an amount that caused them no problem in the past. If you are using opioids after a period of abstinence, start at a lower dose.
Your physical health impacts your body’s ability to manage opioids. Since opioids can impair your ability to breathe, if you have asthma or other breathing problems you are at higher risk for an overdose. Individuals with liver (hepatitis), kidney problems and those who are HIV-positive are also at an increased risk of an overdose.
A person who has experienced a nonfatal overdose in the past has an increased risk of a fatal overdose in the future. To prevent a fatal overdose, teach your family and friends how to recognize and respond to an overdose. If you or someone you know needs help, please call 1 (877) 275.6364 to find an addiction services provider near you.