The Opioid Problem
In 2016, opioid overdose deaths increased to more than 42,000 Americans. This shows that opioid overdose is still a major public health problem in the United States.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids fall into three main groups:
A prescription medicine used to treat and reduce physical pain.
Illegal drugs like heroin.
Illegal opioids like fentanyl analogs (e.g., carfentanil).
There are several prescription medication opioids, but some of the well-known ones you may have heard of before include:
An opioid overdose can happen for many different reasons. Some of the most common causes include:
- When a patient misuses a prescription on purpose.
- When someone uses an illegal drug like heroin.
- When someone uses an opioid contaminated with an even stronger one like fentanyl.
- When a patient using prescription opioids misunderstands the directions for use.
- When someone mixes opioids with other kinds of medication.
- When the person prescribing an opioid miscalculates the dosage amount.
- When the pharmacist providing medication makes a mistake.
Overdose Risk Factors
Anyone who uses heroin, prescription opioids long-term to manage chronic pain, or abuses prescription pain relievers is at risk of an overdose. Other, more specific examples include people who:
- Receive a rotating opioid medication regimen.
- Have been discharged from emergency medical care after an opioid overdose.
- Need opioid pain relievers, but have a suspected or confirmed substance use disorder or history of non-medical use of prescription or illegal opioids.
- Have completed opioid detoxification or haven’t used opioids in a long time.
- Have recently been released from jail and have a history of opioid use disorder or misuse.
The good news is that we can use strategies to help avoid deaths from opioid overdoses. Five important ones to remember are:
- Encourage medical providers, people at high risk, family members, and others to learn how to prevent and manage opioid overdose.
- Push for ensured access to treatment for people who are misusing opioids or have a substance use disorder.
- Support ready access to naloxone. For more information on naloxone, visit drugabuse.gov.
- Encourage people to call 911 in an emergency.
- Encourage prescribers to use state prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs). For more information on PDMPs, please visit http://www.pdaps.org/.
Opioid Overdose Response
What to do if you suspect an overdose:
- An opioid overdose requires immediate medical attention. An essential first step is to get help from someone with medical expertise as soon as possible. Call 911 immediately if you or someone you know exhibits any of the signs. All you have to say is "someone is unresponsive and not breathing." Give a specific address and/or description of your location. Administer naloxone if possible.
Signs of OVERDOSE, which is a life-threatening emergency, includes the following:
- The face is extremely pale and/or clammy to the touch.
- The body is limp.
- Fingernails or lips have a blue or purple cast.
- The person is vomiting or making gurgling noises.
- The person cannot be awakened from sleep or cannot speak.
- Breathing is very slow or stopped.
- The heartbeat is very slow or stopped.
Are you worried about your friend?
If you’ve noticed someone in your life showing signs of a mental or substance use disorder, the first thing you should do is talk to them. It’s not an easy conversation, but it could be precisely the encouragement they need to seek help. Try using a conversation starter to open the door to a judgment-free zone where they’ll feel valued, supported, and listened to.
Conversation Starter Examples
I’ve been worried about you. I’ve noticed you’ve (been drinking a lot, been using drugs, seemed down lately, etc.). Can we talk about what’s going on?
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to me, is there someone else you’d prefer to talk to, like your parents, siblings, or someone else who cares about you?
It seems like you are going through a difficult time. Is there anything I can do to help?
I care about you and want to make sure you’re okay. If you ever think about harming yourself, you know you can come to me, right?
Do you know someone who’s had an experience like yours? I can help you find someone to talk to if you don't.
I want to be here for you. Do you want to talk about it?
You can make a big difference simply by letting your friend know you’re there. Remind your friend that asking for help is a normal part of life, and they can find support at SAMHSA.gov/young-adults or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for treatment referral.
Content provided by SAMSHA.
There are also several available resources for communities and organizations to fight back against America’s opioid problem.
- National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or 1-800-487-4889 (TDD, for hearing impaired)
- Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator (search by address, city, or ZIP Code): https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/
- Buprenorphine Treatment Practitioner Locator (search by address, city, or ZIP Code): https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/physician-program-data/treatment-physician-locator
- Single-State Agencies for Substance Abuse Services: https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/ssa-directory.pdf
- State Opioid Treatment Authorities: https://dpt2.samhsa.gov/regulations/smalist.aspx
- SAMHSA Publications Ordering (all SAMHSA Store products are available at no charge): https://store.samhsa.gov; 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Understanding the Epidemic: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic
- Poisoning: https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/poisoning
Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
- Preventing Opioid Misuse in the States and Territories: http://my.astho.org/opioids/home
National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors
- Opioids Fact Sheet (February 5, 2016): http://nasadad.org/2016/02/opioids-fact-sheet-2016/
Prevent & Protect
- Tools for conducting overdose prevention and naloxone advocacy, outreach, and communication campaigns: http://prevent-protect.org/community-resources-1/