|Synonyms||Narcotic overdose, opioid poisoning|
|A naloxone kit as distributed in British Columbia, Canada|
|Symptoms||Insufficient breathing, small pupils, unconsciousness|
|Complications||Rhabdomyolysis, pulmonary edema, compartment syndrome, permanent brain damage|
|Causes||Opioids (morphine, heroin, fentanyl, tramadol, methadone)|
|Risk factors||Opioid dependence, use of high doses of opioids, injection of opioids, use with alcohol or benzodiazepines|
|Diagnostic method||Based on symptoms|
|Differential diagnosis||Low blood sugar, alcohol intoxication, head trauma, stroke|
|Prevention||Improved access to naloxone, treatment of opioid dependence|
|Treatment||Supporting a person's breathing, naloxone|
An opioid overdose is toxicity due to excessive opioids. Examples of opioids include morphine, heroin, fentanyl, tramadol, and methadone. Symptoms include insufficient breathing, small pupils, and unconsciousness. Onset of symptoms depends in part on the route opioids are taken. Among those who initially survive, complications can include rhabdomyolysis, pulmonary edema, compartment syndrome, and permanent brain damage.
Risk factors for opioid overdose include opioid dependence, injecting opioids, using high doses of opioids, mental disorders, and use together with alcohol or benzodiazepines. The risk is particularly high following detoxification. Dependence on prescription opioids can occur from their use to treat chronic pain. Diagnosis is generally based on symptoms.
Initial treatment involves supporting the person's breathing and providing oxygen. Naloxone is then recommended among those who are not breathing. Given naloxone into the nose or as an injection into a muscle appears to be equally effective. Among those who refuse to go to hospital following reversal, the risks of a poor outcome in the short term appear to be low. Efforts to prevent deaths from overdose include improving access to naloxone and treatment for opioid dependence.
Opioid use disorders resulted in 122,000 deaths globally in 2015, up from 18,000 deaths in 1990. In the United States over 33,000 deaths occurred from opioids in 2015, 20,100 from prescription opioids and 13,000 from heroin. Opioid deaths represent more than 60% of all drug overdose related deaths in the United States. The opioid epidemic is believed to be in part due to assurances in the 1990s by the pharmaceutical industry that prescription opioids were safe.
Signs and symptoms
Because of their effect on the part of the brain that regulates breathing, Opioids can lead to the person not breathing (respiratory depression) during overdoses and therefore result in death. Opiate overdose symptoms and signs can be referred to as the "opioid overdose triad": decreased level of consciousness, pinpoint pupils and respiratory depression. Other symptoms include seizures and muscle spasms. Sometimes a person experiencing an opiate overdose can lead to such a decreased level of consciousness that he or she won't even wake up to their name being called or being shaken by another person.
Prolonged hypoxia from respiratory depression can also lead to detrimental damage to the brain and spinal cord and can leave the person unable to walk or function normally, even if treatment with naloxone is given.
Risk factors for opioid overdose include opioid dependence, injecting opioids, using high doses of opioids, and use together with alcohol or benzodiazepines. The risk is particularly high following detoxification. Dependence on prescription opioids can occur from their use to treat chronic pain.
Opioid overdoses associated with a conjunction of benzodiazepines and/or alcohol use leads to a contraindicated condition. Other CNS depressants, or "downers", muscle relaxers, pain relievers, anti-convulsants, anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs), treatment drugs of a psychoactive or epileptic variety or any other such drug with its active function meant to calm or mitigate neuronal signaling (barbiturates, etc.) can additionally cause a worsened condition with less likelihood of recovery cumulative to each added drug. This includes drugs less immediately classed to a slowing of the metabolism such as with GABAergics like GHB or glutamatergic antagonists like PCP or ketamine.
Although opioid overdose accounts for the leading cause of accidental death, it can be prevented in primary care settings. Clear protocols for staff at emergency departments and urgent care centers can reduce opioid prescriptions for individuals presenting in these settings who engage in drug seeking behaviors or who have a history of substance abuse. Providers should routinely screen patients using tools such as the CAGE-AID and the Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST-10) to screen adults and the CRAFFT to screen adolescents aged 14–18 years. Other “drug seeking” behaviors and physical indications of drug use should be used as clues to perform formal screenings.
Individuals diagnosed with opioid dependence should be prescribed naloxone to prevent overdose and/or should be directed to one of the many intervention/treatment options available, such as needle exchange programs and treatment centers. Brief motivational interviewing can also be performed by the clinician during patient visits and has been shown to improve patient motivation to change their behavior. Despite these opportunities, the dissemination of prevention interventions in the US has been hampered by the lack of coordination and sluggish federal government response.
Prescription monitoring program allow physicians to view individuals' history of prescribed opioids and other controlled substances to prevent risky behaviors, such as doctor shopping and drug diversion. These programs are operational in 49 states and the District of Columbia, and have generally been found to decrease prescribing of opioids.
Regulative policies, such as Florida’s pill mill law, have also been found to decrease opioid prescribing and use, which are both correlated with opioid overdoses. Florida's pill mill law addressed pill mills, or rogue pain management clinics where prescription drugs are inappropriately prescribed and dispensed, and required these clinics to register with the state, have a physician-owner, created inspection requirements, and established prescribing and dispensing requirements and prohibitions for physicians at these clinics.
Death can be prevented in individuals who have overdosed on opioids if they receive basic life support and naloxone is administered soon after the overdose occurs. Naloxone is effective at reversing the cause, rather than just the symptoms, of an opioid overdose. A longer-acting variant of naloxone is naltrexone. Naltrexone is primarily used to treat opioid and alcohol dependence.
Programs to provide drug users and their caregivers with naloxone are recommended. In the United States, as of 2014, more than 25,000 overdoses have been reversed. Healthcare institution-based naloxone prescription programs have also helped reduce rates of opioid overdose in the US state of North Carolina, and have been replicated in the US military. Nevertheless, scale-up of healthcare-based opioid overdose interventions are limited by providers’ insufficient knowledge and negative attitudes towards prescribing take-home naloxone to prevent opioid overdose. Programs training police and fire personnel in opioid overdose response using naloxone have also shown promise.
US overdose deaths involving opioids. Deaths per 100,000 population by year.
Number of yearly U.S. overdose deaths from all opioid drugs.
Number of yearly U.S. overdose deaths involving prescription opioid pain relievers.
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