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: Tell the operator if the person experiencing the overdose has stopped or slowed breathing.
  2. 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: July 27, 2020