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Dose of Reality: Opioid Overdose

Anyone who use opioids can experience an overdose at any time. When a person survives an opioid overdose, it’s because someone knew what was happening and how to take action. Call 911 immediately if you think someone is experiencing an opioid overdose.

Two people hugging

How to recognize an overdose

An opioid overdose happens when a person takes too much of an opioid, or combination of opioids and other drugs, at a level that is toxic to the body. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a person who is using opioids is just very high, or actually experiencing a life-threatening overdose. If you are unsure, it is best to assume there is an overdose—you could save a life. Signs of an overdose include:

  • Unresponsiveness or unconsciousness.
  • Slowed or stopped breathing.
  • Snoring or rattling sounds.
  • Cold or clammy skin.
  • Discolored lips or fingernails.

How to respond to an overdose

Try to wake the person up.

Call their name or yell, "I'm going to call 911!" If they don't respond to your voice, rub the middle of their chest with your knuckles. Call 911. Follow the directions of the 911 operator. Tell the 911 operator if the person has slowed or stopped breathing.

Start rescue breathing if the person's breath is slow or has stopped.

Make sure the person's mouth is not blocked, pinch their nose, and breathe into their mouth every five seconds. Continue this for 30 seconds. Need help? Follow the directions of the 911 operator.

Give naloxone if you have it.

Naloxone is the opioid overdose reversal drug. It is available as a nasal spray or as an injection. Learn more about naloxone, how to get it, and how to use it.

Put the person in the recovery position.

Once the person is breathing again, put them on their side with their top leg and arm crossed over the body to prevent choking. Stick around and keep an eye on the person until emergency help arrives.

Help others without worrying

It is safe to help someone experiencing an opioid overdose.

  • You do not need a prescription to use or administer naloxone.
  • You will not be responsible for any outcomes resulting from the delivery of naloxone.

State law provides limited immunity from criminal prosecution for certain amounts of controlled substance possession and the possession of drug paraphernalia for a person who aids another person who experienced an overdose from a controlled substance.

Use opioids safely

If you use opioids, there are easy and important steps you can take to protect your health and safety.

Get safer use tips

Last revised April 12, 2024