Opioids: Overdose

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

An opioid overdose takes place when levels of opioids are too high in a person’s system, causing them to lose consciousness and stop breathing. An overdose can happen suddenly or come on slowly over the course of a few hours. Without oxygen, the result can be fatal.

What causes an opioid overdose?

  • Using opioids after taking a break from opioids
  • Using opioids bought on the street
  • Taking an extra dose of a prescription opioid or taking it too often either accidentally or on purpose
  • 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 a chronic illness that weakens the heart or makes it harder to breathe.
  • People who have overdosed before. 

What are the signs of an opioid overdose?

  • Discolored lips or fingernails
  • Pale, ashy, cool skin
  • Slow or no breathing
  • Unable to be awakened

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

  • Call 911
  • Give naloxone
  • Perform rescue breaths
  • Stay until help arrives


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: July 23, 2021