If you witness an opioid overdose or know someone who survived an overdose, you may wonder how overdoses and recoveries happen. It's important to first understand overdose risk factors, how to recognize the signs of an overdose, and how to reverse the condition. You could save someone's life.
People at the highest risk of opioid overdose are those who:
The most common signs of an overdose are:
If you suspect someone has overdosed:
Recovery from an overdose begins when the person is revived with naloxone. Those who seek hospital care immediately after receiving naloxone are more likely to receive further treatment than those who do not.
People revived by naloxone are at the highest risk of overdosing again within days of surviving an overdose. Although naloxone temporarily reverses the effects of opioids, the person will soon experience withdrawal symptoms and be likely to crave more opioids.
It is critical to encourage the person to allow first responders to take them to the hospital. That way, they can receive proper care and begin long-term recovery. Hospitals are vital to connecting people who have SUD with ongoing treatment.
When the person arrives at the hospital, Emergency Department staff will provide immediate treatment. After emergency care is complete, medical staff typically set the person up with a “warm handoff" to other medical or social service agencies. There, they can find additional help to prevent future overdoses. Some of these services may include medication-assisted treatment, mental health support, and community support.
Medication for addiction treatment (MAT) is the use of medication, in combination with counseling and other therapies, to help people with addictions. If someone needs detoxification or withdrawal management services, MAT is an option for them to stop taking opioids without experiencing the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that make recovery difficult.
Patients who begin MAT in the hospital have lower rates of opioid use. They are more likely to go to rehab and maintain their recovery than patients who wait to begin MAT after discharge.
Emergency Departments are equipped to begin MAT right away instead of patients finding a provider in their community and waiting to be seen.
People who survive overdoses often have dual diagnoses of SUD and a mental health issue that accompanies their drug use. Examples include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or another disorder. These people can benefit from a connection to mental health services in their community.
A first responder or nurse can engage with the patient to build trust and refer them for services. They can develop a behavioral health treatment plan.
Many different stressful life issues can contribute to SUD, be a barrier to seeking help, and make recovery difficult. Examples include a lack of medical insurance, housing, childcare, pet care, transportation, employment, and more.
Medical staff can put patients in contact with other community recovery supports to help. These may include social workers, cognitive behavior therapists, peer counselors, and outside health and community resources.
The environment in which the individual lives is critical for recovery because overdoses happen outside of a clinical setting. It's important for a recovering person to be in a supportive environment to prevent future overdoses.
Emergency Department staff often will give overdose survivors naloxone to have on hand in case of future overdose. They also will educate them about the standing order that allows any Pennsylvanian to get it.
Hospitals can connect survivors of overdose with treatment centers. In 2016, Pennsylvania introduced Centers of Excellence (COEs) for SUD to help address the growing overdose crisis within the state.
There are COEs located across Pennsylvania. They include primary care practices, hospitals, Federally Qualified Health Centers, substance use disorder treatment providers, and single-county authorities. To find one near you, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services website.
Narcotics Anonymous (NA) has helped people get and stay sober for decades. The NA recovery process includes working the 12-step NA program and attending group therapy sessions. Their meetings take place every day, in many locations throughout the country.
NA can link people with SUD not only to support groups but also to treatment. For more information, visit their website.
Other support resources for friends and family members of people with SUD include:
If you or someone you know are suffering from a substance abuse disorder, please call the Get Help Now Hotline at 1-800-662-4357. You can receive more information about treatment resources.