Heroin is a type of addictive opioid found in the United States and other parts of the world. Every year, thousands struggle with opioid abuse and addiction, which can lead to overdose. Since heroin is a drug that is sold on the streets, the Federal Drug Administration doesn’t have any control over its strength or ingredients.
Opioids depress the central nervous system. When abused in high doses, heroin can lead to dangerous effects, like stopped breathing, which contribute to overdose. Mixing heroin with other drugs, or abusing heroin that is laced with other substances, increases the risk of overdose.
It is important that anyone who has a loved one with an addiction to heroin learn the following information on the signs of a heroin overdose and how it can be treated.
Signs And Symptoms Of A Heroin Overdose
Heroin is sometimes called a “downer” by those who use it. One of the main ingredients in heroin is morphine, which is an addictive painkiller that doctors prescribe for serious injuries and chronic health conditions that cause pain. Small amounts of morphine relieve the discomfort that people feel.
But when large amounts of heroin are taken, a person’s heart rate will decrease, their breathing will become labored, and they will sink into a state of unconsciousness (known as overdose).
It is also common for the lips and skin to turn blue because the heart and lungs won’t be functioning well enough to oxygenate the blood and brain.
Some other signs of a heroin overdose include:
- low blood pressure
Getting Emergency Treatment For Heroin Overdose
It is important to know what type of emergency treatment to administer if you believe someone is experiencing a heroin overdose. After making the initial assessment of their poor state of health, the next thing to do is dial 9-1-1 to request an emergency medical team.
Be sure to let the operator know that you suspect the person you are calling about is suffering from a heroin overdose. This will help the medical technicians know what to do when they arrive.
While waiting for the medical team to get there, be sure to keep the affected person on their back with their head tilted slightly backwards and their mouth open to improve breathing.
If they start to vomit, you will have to turn their head to the side, though. Be sure to monitor their breathing and heart rate, too, because if either of these stop, you will need to resuscitate the person.
Reversing A Heroin Overdose With Naloxone
Once medical help arrives, the next thing they will do after checking for signs of a heroin overdose is to give the affected person an injection of a medication called naloxone.
Treating heroin overdose with naloxone temporarily blocks the effects of heroin in the body and brain. This allows the medical team enough time to get the person to the hospital so they can begin other life-saving treatments.
After treating heroin overdose with naloxone, the hospital personnel will often have to pump the person’s stomach if they ingested heroin orally. Other medications to help get the heart rate and breathing at normal levels might be given intravenously if the heroin was injected instead.
When it is determined that the overdose victim is going to survive, they will most likely need to receive a medication called methadone, which helps to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms.
What To Do After A Heroin Overdose
Most heroin overdoses occur in people who are addicted to the substance. It is important that they be admitted to a rehabilitation center that specializes in heroin addiction as soon as they are medically stable enough to travel.
Otherwise, they might go back to using drugs. Since heroin is illegal, hospitals are required to report patients who overdose on it to the police. There is a chance that the overdose victim may face criminal charges, especially if they had heroin with them when the emergency medical team arrived on the scene to help.
In fact, simply being in possession of heroin is a felony. This is important to know because the situation can be used as a means of requesting court-ordered treatment if the addicted person refuses to seek treatment once they are released from the hospital.
Seeking Treatment For Heroin Addiction
A heroin overdose is a life-threatening condition that can cause a person to go into a coma or die from the way that it suppresses the central nervous system in the body.
Most heroin overdoses occur because a person has an addiction to the substance, which is why it is important that those who survive an overdose be transported to a drug rehab center for treatment as soon as possible.
Heroin causes severe withdrawal symptoms which have to be treated at an inpatient rehab facility that offers a detoxification program. Medically supervised care, along with evidence-based treatment and behavioral therapy, lend to a lasting recovery from heroin addiction. If you want to help your addicted loved one stop heroin use, contact us right away for a list of rehab facilities that will fit their needs.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — What can be done for a heroin overdose?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Heroin overdose