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What Happens to the Body During an Opioid Overdose?

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It’s no secret that there is an opioid epidemic in the US. The epidemic first gained notoriety in 2010, but this all started almost 20 years ago with the strong pain medication OxyContin. Drug companies pushed the drug on doctors, and pain clinics started going up everywhere, especially in Florida. The opioid epidemic refers to the growing number of deaths and hospitalizations from opioids, both illicit and prescription. What Happens to the Body During an Opioid Overdose?

More About Opioid Overdose

The overdose rate due to opioids has continued to increase each year since this epidemic started. However, death rates have plummeted to over 40,000 a year in recent years. Today opioids are responsible for approximately 130 deaths in the United States every day. Most Opioid overdoses are unintentional, but they can happen in many different ways and any type of location. No matter how or where a person has overdosed, Opioid overdose is a serious medical emergency and must be treated immediately.

What Happens to the Human Body During an Opioid Overdose?

The body has opioid receptors throughout it. This includes the brain, central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract. When an individual takes an opioid, the receptors are activated, and the body slows down. If the body becomes overwhelmed with opioids, all the receptors are blocked, and it can’t perform its vital functions. This leads to the risk of overdose, where the individual’s breathing slows down or may even stop. Depending on which opioid is used and how strong it is, it can take from minutes to seconds to feel the effects of an overdose. The National Institute of Health StatPearls “Opioid Overdose” says:

An opiate is derived from the opium poppy plant, while opioids are substances that act on the opiate receptors. Opioids work via the endogenous opioid system by acting as a potent agonist to the mu receptor. This results in a complex cascade of intracellular signals resulting in dopamine release, blockade of pain signals, and a resulting sensation of euphoria. Opioid receptors are located in the brain, spinal cord, and gut. In overdose, there is an excessive effect on the portion of the brain regulating respiratory rate, resulting in respiratory depression and eventually death. The typical symptoms seen in overdose are pinpoint pupils, respiratory depression, and a decreased level of consciousness. This is known as the “opioid overdose triad. (NIH)

An overload of opioids on the body causes normal blood flow throughout the body to be suppressed. The veins can collapse due to the bloodstream being filled with opioids. The brain can be damaged from limited oxygen flow to it. Seizures can occur, which can cause even further brain damage. The heart can slow down or even stop. Abnormal heart rhythms can occur, leading to cardiac arrest. And the lungs can be affected, leading to respiratory depression or pulmonary edema. Pulmonary edema is a fluid leak that fills up the lungs’ air spaces. The gag reflex is also suppressed, causing the person to have difficulty swallowing or spitting, leading to choking.

Signs and Symptoms of an Opioid Overdose

Knowing the signs of an overdose is crucial, especially if you know someone struggling with opioid addiction. Some of the signs can include:

  • Unresponsiveness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unable to talk, but awake
  • Slowed or stopped breathing
  • Bluish purple or grayish ashen skin
  • Choking on gurgling sounds
  • Vomiting
  • A limp body
  • Blue or purple lips or fingernails
  • Slowed or stopped heartbeat

If you suspect someone is suffering from an opioid overdose called 911 immediately or administer Narcan (naloxone) if it is available. Suppose the individual recovers from the overdose; treatment is vital to prevent another overdose or, worse, a potential overdose fatality.

Get Treatment for Opioid Addiction at Evoke Wellness Coconut Creek

Evoke Wellness Coconut Creek is a premier treatment facility committed to providing the best care for anyone battling drug and alcohol addiction. Our top priority is your safety and comfort, and life in sobriety is our primary mission. Our team of professionals is some of the most experienced, compassionate, non-judgmental, and understanding people in the addiction field. We will treat you with the kindness and respect you deserve and help you start healing and moving forward on your path to long-term recovery. Help is only one phone call away. So give us a call today.