Opioids: Overdose

An opioid overdose is a medical emergency. If you think someone has overdosed, call 911. 

What causes an opioid overdose?

  • Taking an opioid to get high
  • Taking an extra dose of a prescription opioid or taking it too often either accidentally or on purpose
  • Mixing an opioid with other medicines, illegal drugs, or alcohol 
  • Taking an opioid that was prescribed for someone else

Who is at greatest risk for an opioid overdose?

  • People who take illegal opioids.
  • People who take more opioid medicine than prescribed.
  • People who combine opioids with other medicines and/or alcohol.
  • People who have asthma, sleep apnea, or reduced kidney or liver function.

What are the signs of an opioid overdose?

  • Body feels clammy to the touch
  • Extremely pale face
  • Extremely small pinpoint pupils
  • Gurgling noises
  • Limp body
  • Purple or blue colored fingernails or lips
  • Slow or stopped breathing or heartbeat
  • Unable to be awakened
  • Unable to speak
  • Vomiting

What are the steps to take to respond to an opioid overdose?

1. Call 911

  • Call 911.
  • Tell the operator if the person experiencing the overdose has stopped or slowed breathing.

Individuals who seek medical attention for someone who has overdosed are protected under Wisconsin law from arrest for possessing drugs or drug paraphernalia.

2. Give naloxone

  • Give naloxone.
  • Remove any objects from the mouth of the person experiencing the overdose.
  • Start rescue breathing: tilt head back, lift chin, pinch nose with other hand, give one breath every five seconds. Continue this for 30 seconds.
  • Give naloxone again after 2-3 minutes if there is still no response. More than one dose is sometimes needed.

3. Lay person on side

Lay the person on their side to prevent choking. Keep the person awake and breathing.

4. Stay until help arrives

Stay with the person experiencing the overdose until emergency workers arrive.


Reverse an opioid overdose with naloxone

Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. It can be given as an injection or as a nasal spray to block the effects of the opioid on the body. No prescription is required.  


Related information
Last Revised: February 7, 2020