After a decade of ever-increasing opioid overdose deaths, the rising trend appears to have slowed down. At the end of 2019, states began to report slight decreases in drug overdose death rates, particularly opioid-related deaths. But, that changed in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Since March, tragically, several states have announced upticks in opioid-related deaths.
An opioid overdose occurs when a toxic amount of a substance enters the bloodstream and impacts the central nervous system and the brain. As a result, the victim’s respiratory rate dramatically slows and they lose consciousness. Individuals who are discovered before the toxicity reaches a fatal level can be successfully treated.
Emergency medical interventions provided in a timely manner make the difference between life and death. Many first responders, caregivers, and even family members, are now trained to administer naloxone, a drug that rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Naloxone has had a profound impact on saving lives that otherwise would have succumbed to the effects of an opioid overdose.
What is Naloxone?
Naloxone, sold under the brand name, Narcan, is an opioid antagonist that is used as an antidote for opioid overdose. Naloxone can swiftly restore the individual’s normal breathing and revive consciousness. It works by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain, heading off the effects of the opioid. Naloxone is usually administered as a nasal spray; however, it’s also available in injectable forms. Naloxone’s restorative effects can buy time for emergency interventions to be provided.
Individuals who have completed opioid treatment programs are routinely prescribed naloxone, because they have a high risk of relapse. After an extended period of abstinence, someone who relapses is at a high risk for overdose and death. Additionally, individuals participating in medication-supported recovery (MSR) and those in pain recovery are also candidates for naloxone prescription as an added safety measure.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are narcotic drugs that bind to the opioid receptors in the brain. These include synthetic drugs, such as prescription pain relievers (oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, fentanyl) and drugs derived from the opium poppy plant (heroin, codeine, morphine). Prescription opioids are used medicinally to block pain signals between the pain source and the brain, but these medications can also be misused recreationally. Heroin is an illicit narcotic that carries DEA Schedule I designation, meaning it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
A very high percentage of opioid overdose deaths involve the presence of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Fentanyl is an extremely powerful drug that has become prevalent on the illegal drug market. People who purchase heroin or even prescription opioids off the street may be unaware if the substance has been cut with fentanyl. They may ingest the substance and be overcome by fentanyl’s potent effects.
Naloxone has provided a safety net for those individuals who have experienced an opioid overdose. The sooner it is administered, the better the outcome. Time is of the essence, especially with fentanyl-related overdoses. Once the naloxone takes effect and the person is revived, they will have an opportunity to obtain treatment for the opioid use disorder.
Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder
When an individual has survived an opioid overdose, it offers them a chance to change their life. A residential treatment center will provide the professional therapies and education to help them make fundamental changes in their thought patterns and behavioral responses. A medication-supported recovery program, combined with ongoing therapy and a recovery support network, will assist the individual in maintaining abstinence after the treatment program has been completed. It is never too late to make the positive changes that can lead to renewed hope and purpose in life.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.