Symptoms of an Overdose: Recognizing the Signs Before it Happens

Overdose deaths have steadily increased in Missouri. The devastating impact of substance misuse and overdose places a tremendous burden on our families, communities, and healthcare systems. All sexes, races, and a wide range of age groups are impacted by the drug pandemic in rural and urban Missouri areas. 

As people try to understand the signs they missed and how to recognize the symptoms of an overdose and stop them from happening again, Missouri has sadly fallen victim to seeing overdose rates rise along with other factors such as opioid addiction. 

Opioids include heroin, fentanyl, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, and numerous additional prescription and over-the-counter analgesics. Over the past ten years, deadly and nonfatal drug overdoses have increased dramatically in Missouri. 

The best way to overcome the possibility of having a loved one overdose is to understand the sign of an overdose and how to prevent it. Also, if you can convince a loved one to enter into an addiction treatment program they will be much less likely to suffer from overdose.

At Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center in Missouri, we believe in the importance of helping people recognize the symptoms of an overdose to try and prevent one before it happens. Here is your guide. 

Symptoms of An Overdose: Statistics in Missouri

Drug overdose deaths in Missouri were the number one cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 44 in 2020, placing the state 32nd overall and first in the District of Columbia.  

  • More than 70% of the deaths involve opioids such as heroin and fentanyl. One in 47 deaths in Missouri in 2021 was due to opioid overdose. 
  • In St. Louis City, opioids were involved in 82.8% of drug-involved deaths in the first half of 2022; a 0.9% decrease from the first half of 2021.
  • In 2021, there were 1,581 opioid overdose deaths in Missouri 
  • In 2021, there were 3266 non-fatal ER visits due to opioid overdoses

In addition to an online COVID-19 data dashboard showing the seriousness of the pandemic, the state of Missouri has launched another public dashboard to track the increasing number of drug overdose deaths. 

This is in an attempt to engage in harm reduction techniques, and to better track, rising drug overdose deaths in the state of Missouri, The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services launched a new website that provides data on fatal and nonfatal overdoses, where they occurred, and their demographic characteristics. 

What is an Overdose?

An overdose occurs when a person takes more of a substance than their body can safely handle. When this happens, it can lead to serious health consequences, including death. Overdoses can happen to anyone that is using alcohol, illicit drugs, or even prescription drugs. It’s also important to remember that mixing substances can cause an overdose to occur as different substances react differently to each other.

Health Consequences Associated With an Overdose

Overdoses can cause several different health consequences, some of which are short-term and others that may last a lifetime. Short-term effects of an overdose may include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drowsiness or loss of consciousness

Longer-term effects of an overdose may include:

  • Brain damage
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings or mental health problems
  • Organ damage, such as to the liver, kidneys, or heart

The signs and symptoms of an overdose will vary depending on the substance involved.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of an Overdose?

There are both physical and behavioral signs that may indicate someone is overdosing on a substance.  However, common signs of an overdose include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Weak pulse
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Vomiting or choking
  • Agitation or confusion
  • Slowed or stopped breathing
  • Unusual behavior or mood swings
  • Muscle spasms or tremors
  • Constricted (small) pupils
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Clammy or cold skin
  • Seizures

If you suspect someone is overdosing, it is important to call 911 immediately. Do not try to make the person vomit as this could cause them to choke. Additionally, do not give them anything to eat or drink as this could make things worse.

Which Substances Commonly Cause Overdose?

Most overdoses are caused by opioids, such as heroin, morphine, and fentanyl. Stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, can also lead to an overdose. Other drugs that may cause an overdose include:

  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • GHB
  • Ketamine
  • LSD
  • PCP

Fentanyl has recently gained popularity due to its potency and therefore its been found to be mixed with other substances such as cocaine or ketamine. This has been causing many people to overdose by not knowing what their street drugs are mixed with.

Risk Factors of Overdose

There are many risk factors for overdose that include:

  • Biological factors such as gender, age, and weight
  • Method of drug use (intravenous, snorting, or smoking)
  • Mixing substances (including over-the-counter medications)
  • If the person has a co-occurring mental health or co-morbid disorder
  • If the individual has suffered from an overdose previously
  • Tolerance level for drugs and/or alcohol

If someone qualifies for one or more of these risk factors, the more likely they are to suffer from an overdose.

Treatment for an Overdose

If someone overdoses, it is important to get them medical help immediately. There are many phone lines available that can connect you with the help you need such as The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.  These resources can help you identify the signs of an overdose if you believe one is taking place.

If the person is not breathing normally or is unresponsive, you should dial 911. Emergency medical personnel can utilize naloxone to help immediately reverse an overdose if the individual is suffering from an opioid overdose.

What is Naloxone? How Does it Work?

Naloxone is a medication that can be used to save the life of someone who has overdosed on opioids. It works by quickly reversing the effects of an overdose, and it can be given as a shot or nasal spray. Naloxone is available without a prescription in many states, and it’s important for anyone who might come into contact with someone at risk of an overdose to have it on hand.

If you think someone has overdosed, call 911 immediately and administer naloxone if you have it. The sooner an overdose is treated, the better the chances are for a full recovery.

Addiction Treatment After an Overdose

Anyone that may have suffered from an overdose will need to enter addiction treatment. There are several types of programs available. However, programs are typically considered inpatient programs or outpatient programs. Inpatient rehab will require you to stay at the treatment facility. Outpatient rehab programs allow individuals to live at home while they attend treatment around their schedule. Both levels of care are effective in treating addiction, it just depends on what works best for you.

Addiction treatment programs will offer a variety of therapy options such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) individual therapy, group therapy, or family therapy. Many facilities will offer holistic therapy options like yoga or art therapy as well. 

Through therapy, you’ll learn more about yourself and any underlying reasons for addiction. Therapy programs will also be in conjunction with addiction education and relapse prevention techniques to help manage stress and improve coping skills.

Harm Reduction Community Social Initiatives

Harm reduction refers to a set of social policies that are designed to limit the risk of overdose or transference of disease in drug use. These policies can be things like needle exchange programs, community education on safer drug use, and drug consumption rooms. These approaches have proven to be cost-effective to communities and have had positive impacts in reducing overdose rates.

Some people may feel that harm reduction initiatives are nothing more than enabling addictive behaviors, when in reality they are simply created with the idea of improving public health and protecting human rights. The goal is to keep people alive and continuously reinforce positive changes in a person’s life, as they choose to make those.

What Can I Do to Prevent the Symptoms of an Overdose?

If you have a loved one that is engaging in substance abuse, there are several things you can do. Just as there are many social initiatives surrounding harm prevention, you, too, can help your loved one similarly. Help them stay informed and protect themselves by following some of these recommended prevention tips:

  • Use one substance at a time and avoid mixing
  • Try a little bit at a time to make sure you can handle the strength
  • Find out the type of pills you’re taking, or test the strength of your drugs
  • Reach out to a friend who is aware of what substance you’ve taken
  • Keep naloxone on standby to reverse an overdose if one occurs

The Opioid Epidemic and the Impact on Overdose in the United States

In the United States, overdose deaths continue to be a major cause of injury-related death. Opioids are a prominent factor in most overdose fatalities. In recent years, the number of fatalities involving stimulants (such as cocaine and methamphetamine) and synthetic opioids (like fentanyl produced illegally) has skyrocketed. Additionally, the COVID-19 epidemic saw an increase in overdose deaths.

There are many more nonfatal drug overdoses than fatal ones, and each one has its own emotional and financial costs. Age, sex, or state or county boundaries are all equally indistinguishable in this quickly spreading disease.

The rise in overdoses can be attributed to several factors:

  • An increase in prescriptions for opioids: In the 1990s, doctors were taught that opioids were not as addictive as previously thought and began prescribing them more frequently for pain relief. This led to more people becoming addicted to opioids.
  • The increase in heroin use: As the crackdown on prescription opioids began, many people turned to heroin as a cheaper and more accessible alternative.
  • The rise of synthetic opioids: In recent years, there has been an increase in the production and use of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and can be deadly even in very small doses.

Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center Can Help You Recognize the Signs of an Overdose

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, know that there are people who care and want to help. Sana Lake BWC is here for you. 

Our trained professionals can help you overcome addiction and find a new, fulfilling life in recovery! We offer a variety of treatment programs and additional helpful resources to develop an individualized program that is tailored to your needs.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how we can help you on the road to recovery.