How do I know if I am overdosing on heroin? What does a heroin overdose look like?
Did you just snort or shoot up a bag of heroin? How much heroin is too much to handle?
Do you now feel sleepy, confused or disoriented? Are you itching all over? Is your mouth dry and your vision blurry? Could you be overdosing right now?
Overdosing on heroin feels like going to sleep. You may be aware of your breathing slowing down, or you notice that you just don’t feel like you have to breathe anymore.
If you are overdosing, you may feel a sense of peace and well-being as you quietly slip away. From the point of view of a bystander, you look terrible.
They notice that you are nodding off. You might have slurred speech, pinpoint pupils, a discolored tongue, a faint pulse, low blood pressure, jerking muscles.
You may even slip into a coma, as your breathing slows down further. These are all signs of a heroin overdose.
Hopefully, someone witnessing your overdose has Narcan available. Narcan can reverse a heroin overdose and save a life.
Heroin addiction is one of the deadliest addictions, because of the high risk for drug overdose. As heroin abuse continues, the chance of dying from an accidental overdose escalates.
Often, a person addicted to heroin will continue heroin use, not because they enjoy it or get high anymore, but to avoid heroin withdrawal. Because of physical dependence on the drug, they will get very sick if they suddenly stop using heroin.
How much heroin does it take to overdose?
The risk of heroin overdose is higher today than ever before in history. One of the primary reasons for this is that heroin is, for the most part, no longer heroin.
Have you heard of fentanyl? Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid drug that is similar to opiates, such as morphine or heroin. The main difference is that fentanyl is far more potent than either of those two opiates, which are naturally derived from the opium poppy.
In fact, fentanyl is 20-25 times more powerful than heroin, and 80-100 times more potent than morphine. A very small amount of fentanyl can cause an overdose, even for a heroin addict with a high tolerance for opioids.
To complicate matters further, the fentanyl found on the streets is different from pharmaceutical fentanyl. The properties of the exotic, designer fentanyl analogs, imported from Mexico and China, are not the same as FDA-approved fentanyl.
When a heroin user buys a bag of dope from their dealer, very likely, they are not getting heroin, even if the dealer insists that it is real heroin. Nearly all heroin sold on the streets contains fentanyl analogs.
Because of sloppy handling by drug dealers of super-potent fentanyl being sold as heroin, drug users can never be certain of the potency of their heroin supply. It might be a product that they can handle, or it could cause a sudden heroin overdose.
If I find someone passed out on the side of the road, should I assume they have overdosed on heroin?
This is an excellent question. Do you know how to tell if someone is high on heroin, or if they have just overdosed on heroin?
What are the signs of heroin overdose? When we see a person use opioids and then nod off, we can be certain that they are at risk for an opioid overdose. Or, if a person whom we know to be an opioid user is seen passed out, it is reasonable to assume that they are very likely overdosing on opioids.
But, what if we see an unconscious stranger, breathing shallow breaths, or not breathing at all? Of course, the best thing to do is call for help and practice basic life-saving protocols until emergency personnel arrive.
Yet, what if you are in this situation, and you have Narcan in your possession? Do you give the person the Narcan nasal spray? Will you harm them if it turns out they have not had an opioid overdose?
While every emergency situation may be unique and should be handled accordingly, it is reasonable to give Narcan to an unconscious person if you believe that they may have overdosed on heroin or another opioid. Narcan will not be harmful in most cases, even if the person is not overdosing.
However, if they are experiencing a heroin overdose, Narcan will likely be life-saving. Narcan, which is a brand name for naloxone, blocks the opioid receptors, effectively reversing heroin overdose in seconds.
Since Narcan is short-acting, it is possible for the heroin overdose symptoms to return after the naloxone opioid blocking action wears off. If this happens, you can give Narcan again, if the ambulance has not yet arrived.
Can a heroin addiction treatment program help a person to avoid heroin overdose?
Overdose deaths from heroin and fentanyl have been increasing for years, according to disease control experts. While prescription opioid abuse was previously the major concern, heroin and fentanyl are now a much bigger issue than prescription drug abuse.
When a person is stuck in active opioid addiction, and they refuse to get help, eventual overdose may seem inevitable. What is the best way to convince someone who has repeatedly exhibited heroin overdose signs and symptoms to go to a substance abuse treatment program?
Many addiction treatment programs treat all addictions about the same. They expect clients to quit their drug of choice cold turkey, and deal with the withdrawal symptoms.
Even if a drug addiction treatment program offers a “comfortable detox,” it often involves a very short-term, fast paced medical treatment. Clients are then offered addiction therapy that includes individual counseling and group therapy.
They are encouraged to go to 12-step meetings and learn about the Alcoholics Anonymous way of life. Often, medical treatment for their addiction is not a part of the program.
Is it helpful to sit in a group meeting and listen to heroin recovery stories? While it may be inspirational and motivational to hear that others have overcome heroin addiction, medical therapy for opioid addiction is still the gold standard of care.
Does medication-assisted treatment for heroin addiction help to prevent heroin overdose?
Continued opioid use is, of course, a major risk factor for overdose. Stopping a person from using heroin improves their chances greatly.
While there are some people who like to point out that treatment drugs, such as methadone and Suboxone are simply trading one drug for another, it is important to be aware of the differences. Heroin on the streets is of unknown potency, and it can be contaminated with deadly fentanyl, carfentanil, or other dangerous toxic chemicals.
Heroin, or fentanyl, also causes the user to become tolerant, meaning that over time, they must take more to get the same effect. Additionally, drug use on the streets, with questionable syringes, needles, and risky practices, puts the user at high risk for disease, disability, and death.
When a person starts a methadone maintenance program, or goes to a Suboxone doctor, they are expected to stop all other opioid use. They trade the dangers of the streets for the safety of taking an FDA-approved pharmaceutical product.
There are many other benefits to medication-assisted treatment, but a major benefit is that the risk of overdose is minimal. Family members who were previously concerned about seeing heroin overdose signs and symptoms can relax when their loved one is safely in an MAT program.
Suboxone treatment and methadone maintenance treatment are forms of harm reduction. In addition to making it possible to live a productive life without heroin cravings or withdrawal symptoms, the patient has a far lower risk of overdose death, or harm from uncontrolled drug use.
What does heroin overdose look like in a supervised consumption site?
A supervised consumption site, another name for a supervised injection area, is a place where IV drug users who use heroin or fentanyl can use their drugs with safe drug paraphernalia and supervision. If heroin addicts accidentally overdose, the attendants are prepared to provide Narcan, or other life-saving therapies.
You might think that supervised consumption sites would deal with many heroin overdoses. Do they see the signs and symptoms of heroin overdose every day?
I had the opportunity to interview the manager of a major supervised consumption center in British Columbia, Canada, and found that heroin overdoses and fentanyl overdoses are not as common as you might think. In fact, he stated that, while they are very prepared to deal with opioid overdoses, overdoses rarely occur.
How is it possible that in a facility where people are crowding in throughout the day, every day, to use prescription opioids, black tar heroin, high purity heroin and fentanyl, that there are few overdoses? How could even one day pass without at least one opioid overdose?
The fascinating thing about a well-run supervised consumption site is that they care about their visitors. They make an effort to make a personal connection, getting to know each person as a real human being, beyond their drug use and addiction.
Drug users who use the site are educated about the dangers of fentanyl, and the need to take extra care in dosing. Testing is also offered, so the heroin or fentanyl user is aware of what drug they are injecting or snorting.
By having that level of trust and communication between the safe consumption site staff and visitors, overdoses are kept to a minimum. Of course, the staff is always looking carefully for the signs and symptoms of heroin overdose, in case they have to act quickly with supplemental oxygen and injectable naloxone.
Are the signs and symptoms of a kratom overdose similar to those of a heroin overdose?
Kratom is a plant-based drug, which has properties very similar to an opioid. In fact, the drug works directly on opioid receptors, just like morphine, heroin, or fentanyl.
What happens when a kratom user overdoses on the powder extract, which can be obtained at kava bars, gas stations, and kratom websites? The symptoms of excessive kratom use are similar to heroin intoxication, yet kratom is a milder drug, so overdose is less likely.
Still, overdosing on kratom is still possible. The signs of kratom overdose might include signs that a person is consuming the large amounts of kratom powder in order to feel an opioid high.
The greenish, yellowish powder may be found everywhere, in the person’s environment. In the car, in their bedroom, in the kitchen, or work breakroom, there will be traces of spilled kratom powder.
A more ominous consequence of kratom use by a heroin addict or fentanyl addict is that kratom can stimulate opioid cravings. When someone is addicted to a particular class of drug and they have cravings for their drug of choice, they will tend to seek the strongest form of the drug that they have used in the past.
For example, when a former meth user or cocaine user, living drug-free, decides to take stimulant diet pills, they will likely experience a small taste of the high feeling that they remember. That feeling still lives deep in their memories, connected strongly by latent pathways to the reward centers of the brain.
After taking a few doses of diet pills, the stimulant addict will start to think about their drug of choice. If meth is not available, they may turn to potent prescription amphetamines, powder cocaine, or crack.
A similar effect often occurs with the recovering opioid addict who tries kratom. The less intense opioid feeling triggers something deep and powerful in their brain, leading to intense cravings for the stronger opioids they remember.
Many kratom users have found themselves with heroin or fentanyl powder in their possession again. With anticipation, they snort, or shoot up the drug. Because of the high potency of street opioids, and the user’s diminished opioid tolerance, the experience may lead to a heroin overdose.
As you can see, kratom use can lead to heroin overdose. If you know that someone is using kratom, and you see the signs and symptoms of heroin overdose, consider that they may be overdosing on either heroin, or more likely, fentanyl.
What is the best course of action for someone who has survived a heroin overdose?
If you have overdosed on heroin, and survived the experience, what should you do next? An overdose can be a serious wake-up call. Who can you turn to for help?
Because of the seriousness of a near-death experience caused by a heroin overdose, it may seem like rehab is the best solution. Many people think of rehabs being hospital-like facilities, where doctors and nurses check in on the clients, monitoring their progress and providing cutting-edge medical care.
The truth about rehab is that most residential rehab facilities are not full healthcare programs similar to a hospital, or even an urgent care center. Clients in most rehabs may only see a doctor once, and they rarely see a nurse, psychologist, psychiatrist, or anyone with training above a basic addiction counseling certification.
Even in the most prestigious rehab programs, proper medical care for heroin addiction is either not provided, or it is administered incorrectly. Medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction has been demonstrated to be the best approach, yet rehabs continue to put group therapy and spiritual meetings ahead of medical therapies.
Surprisingly, the best in heroin addiction care is being offered in private medical clinics, where Suboxone doctors are able to quickly assess the problem and provide a proven medical solution. Why go away to rehab, when concierge service with a private addiction treatment doctor is available in your community?
Additionally, concierge Suboxone telemedicine has made addiction treatment after a heroin overdose even more accessible. Patients are able to speak with their doctor and reach their doctor any time, from the comfort of their own home.
If your loved one shows signs and symptoms of a heroin overdose, should you call a Suboxone doctor?
A heroin overdose is a life-threatening emergency. The best course of action is to call 911 for emergency services. If Narcan nasal spray is available, it can be administered immediately to help temporarily reverse the overdose.
After the patient is stable, in the hospital, plans for the future may be considered. In some cases, the hospital ER doctor may have already started Suboxone, Subutex, or ZubSolv, which are all sublingual medications that contain buprenorphine.
Once the danger of overdose has passed, it is then reasonable to call a private Suboxone doctor to schedule an appointment. It is important to move forward and not delay in getting medical treatment. A heroin overdose is a very serious event, and it can happen again.
Suboxone therapy is an excellent way to reduce the risk of a heroin overdose. Medication assisted treatment with buprenorphine makes it possible to live a fulfilling life, without obsessing over or craving heroin, or other opioids.