Can Opiate Withdrawal Or Overdose Kill You?
Opioids or opiates are medicines used for pain treatment. Narcotic is a term that is used to refer to either of the drugs. Opiates are obtained from poppy plants and have traditionally been used for pain treatment. Opiates can be synthetic or natural. Morphine, opium, and codeine are all examples of natural opiates. Opioids are synthetic or man-made and they often prescribed for pain relief. Examples of synthetic opioids include Demerol, Dilaudid, Vicodin, Oxycodone, Methadone, Fentanyl, and Darvon.
Heroin is made from morphine and has no medicinal use. It is often abused because of the euphoric feeling it gives users. It is a highly addictive opioid and one of the most difficult drug habits to overcome.
What Is Opiate Withdrawal?
Opiate users require higher and higher doses of opiates to maintain their high. When a user voluntarily or involuntarily cuts back or stops using opiates, they exhibit a set of symptoms some of which could be life-threatening. These symptoms are what is referred to as withdrawal.
What Is Opiate Overdose?
An opiate overdose refers to the intentional or accidental use of opiates in amounts higher than what one normally consumes. The negative reactions of an opiate overdose can and does often cause death.
Opioid and Opiate Withdrawal
Opiate withdrawal symptoms are often unbearable and their severity often leads many users into relapses. Withdrawal symptoms can be so severe that they threaten a user’s life. Many users worry that they could die from withdrawal symptoms and this is a genuine concern since some of the symptoms are so overwhelming to the body that could actually cause death.
Although few people die from opiate withdrawal today, the potential risks linked to withdrawal symptoms can spike dangerously putting the opiate user at risk. The risk is heightened if a user goes through withdrawal without supervision from a medical professional.
The safest way to go through withdrawal is by going through medically assisted detox where medical professionals give you round the clock care, monitoring and treating your symptoms every step of the way until detoxification occurs.
Most opioid addicts use opioid painkillers. It often starts innocently when a doctor prescribes the medication maybe after an illness or injury. Once addiction sets in, the patient continues taking the medication just to maintain the high. Some of the common narcotic painkillers abused by opioid addicts include:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
Over time, individuals who abuse these pain medications develop tolerance. Tolerance means that they require higher and higher doses of the medicines to get high. How long and how severe dependency on the drugs take depends on an individual.
When an opioid user wants to quit the habit, they have to cut back or cut out the use of the opioids and this causes withdrawal symptoms. The body requires time to recover and rid itself of the opioids before it can return back to its normal state.
Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal
Below are some of the early withdrawal symptoms.
- Increased tearing
- Muscle aches
- A runny nose
Withdrawal symptoms that show up later include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Dilated pupils
While these symptoms present a lot of discomforts, they aren’t life-threatening. Withdrawal symptoms start exhibiting within twelve hours from the last use and within thirty hours for methadone abusers.
Exams And Tests
If you are an opioid addict seeking help to recover from addiction, you should seek help from a credible health care practitioner and/or facility. When you first go to a hospital, you should expect a physical exam and your doctor will also need to ask questions to ascertain how long you’ve been on opioid use and the opioids you’ve been exposed to during that period.
Urine and/or blood tests are also conducted to screen for opioid use. If your doctor is concerned about other health issues, they may order additional tests that include:
- A complete blood count, measures of white and red blood cells as well as platelets that help with blood clotting. This is also known as a CBC test.
- Liver function and blood chemistries such as CHEM-20
- Chest X-ray
- HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis tests may also be conducted. Most addicts end up contracting some of these infections as a result of reckless behavior brought on by the addition.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) for the heart.
Treatment For Opiate Withdrawal
Withdrawal from opiates is extremely hard to manage on your own. The best and safest way to detox is by seeking treatment from a credible health practitioner and/or center. Treatment involves administering medication, taking part in support groups and counseling.
Withdrawal can occur in various settings:
- From home using medication and a good support system. This is the most difficult method to use for detox and most individuals who go through it end up relapsing. Withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and if one doesn’t have the right support system and medical aid, they can easily succumb to some of the severe symptoms. For instance, individuals going through withdrawal may suffer severe dehydration if vomiting and diarrhea are some of the symptoms they are exhibiting. This can be life-threatening.
- The other method is by seeking help from a rehabilitation center. There are many drug and alcohol recovery centers with trained medical and support staff who help addicts through the withdrawals ensuring that they safely go through detoxification. Medication, counseling and support groups are all additional tools used to help the addict survive and stay clean after the detox.
- Thirdly, one can opt for outpatient care from a hospital. Many hospitals today offer support to opiate addicts looking for a way out. They carry out a medical procedure, offer treatment using medicines and even provide counseling and group support programmes. Choosing outpatient care means that you can go on with your everyday activities while getting treatment for your addiction. This method is recommended for individuals who have already gone through detox and are looking for a way to permanently kick the habit.
Opiate Withdrawal Medication
There are several medicines popularly administered to opiate addicts going through withdrawal. These medicines help in managing the symptoms and helping addicts gradually quit the habit. These include:
This drug is used long-term to manage opioid dependence. It is a synthetic opioid which helps users manage the intensity of symptoms of withdrawal. Some individuals can use it for years while others use it for just a couple of weeks or months.
Also known as Subutex, this drug can shorten the period of detox. It can also be used for long-term management of the addiction. It is often combined with another drug, Naloxone, to help prevent misuse and dependence.
This drug helps in managing agitation, anxiety, sweating, muscle aches, cramping, and runny nose, all of which are common withdrawal symptoms. In addition, it helps reduce cravings during withdrawal.
This drug helps in preventing relapses. It can be administered as an injection or in form of a pill. It can, however, cause severe withdrawal if administered while the body still has traces of opioids.
Most individuals require long-term intervention following treatment. This can be achieved in several ways:
- Through self-help groups such as SMART Recovery and Narcotics Anonymous
- Outpatient counseling
- Inpatient treatment in a reputable health/recovery facility
- Intensive outpatient care is also known as day hospitalization
If you are going through opiate detox, your health care provider should also rule out other mental illnesses such as depression. Treating such psychological disorders can significantly reduce your risk for relapsing. In some cases, you might have to take antidepressants even as you go through the detox.
Complications are rare but possible. They include:
- Vomiting and inhaling contents in the lungs. This is known as aspiration and can lead to a lung infection.
- Mineral or electrolyte disturbances from excess diarrhea and vomiting. This can cause one’s body to go into shock and if not treated in time, is fatal.
- The most significant complication is relapsing and then overdose. Research shows that a good number of individuals who go through detox and then relapse, often die from an overdose. This is because withdrawal lowers an individual’s tolerance to the opiates and therefore increasing the risk of an overdose should one relapse.
Risks Of Opioid Withdrawal
There are several risks associated with opiate withdrawal and many can cause medical complications. Although death does not typically occur following these symptoms, they demand medical attention, preferably inpatient care. Some of the risks include:
- Rapid heart rate
- High blood pressure
- High temperature
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Crippling pain with severe reactions
Risk Of Death From Opiate Withdrawal
While withdrawal symptoms can be extremely harsh and seem unbearable, with proper treatment and supervision withdrawal does not cause death. Death during withdrawal can occur when:
- An individual who has been using for a long time and in large quantities goes cold turkey at once. This can put the body into shock and if there is no medical intervention, could lead to death.
- Overdose following a relapse. After detox, the body’s tolerance to opiates is reduced. A relapse can cause what used to be a normal amount of opiate dose turn into an overdose that can kill you if emergency medical help is not sought.
An opiate overdose occurs when an individual consumes higher than normal doses of the drug either deliberately or by accident. There are three commonly prescribed opioid drugs that people overdose from OxyContin, Vicodin, and morphine.
When individuals abuse these medications for a long time, they can begin experiencing depression, lower state of consciousness, and slowed breathing that occurs as a result of a lack of adequate oxygen in one’s brain.
Death is a plausible occurrence following opioid overdoses. The risk of death is heightened if the user mixes opioids with other substances such as sedatives and alcohol. More often than not, opioid addicts overdose by accident when they consume higher doses in an attempt to chase the high.
The most popular opioids prescribed to patients are hydrocodone and oxycodone. It is therefore not a surprise that most overdose deaths are linked to these two drugs. Recently, experts are seeing an increase in overdoses linked to illicit fentanyl.
The reality about opioid abuse is that the more you take to get a high, the higher the dose you will need to maintain that high. There is no way of measuring if and how much is safe and as the dosage goes high the risk of an overdose increases as well.
Sometimes opioid addicts just lose track of how much opioids they are consuming and thus increasing the risk of an overdose. Foggy memory, poor concentration, and illogical thinking are all characteristics observed in opioid addicts.
When taken together with other medication, Vicodin can lead to acetaminophen overdose. A good number of medications that are antipyretic and non-opioid analgesic are found contain the compound acetaminophen. Too much of this compound can impair the liver through a process referred to as hepatic necrosis. When this occurs, it can lead to liver failure and ultimately death.
Experts recommend that patients taking acetaminophen to consume it within a 24-hour duration, and consumption should not be for dosage higher than 4000mg. some over the counter acetaminophen drugs contain as high as 500mg of the drug in each tablet and these are easily misused by addicts. People who already have compromised hepatic functions perhaps due to excessive drinking or drug use have a higher culpability of misusing the drug.
Ultimately, abuse of one range of opioid or a combination of different opioid medicines will eventually impair and lead to a host of other illnesses that eventually lead to death.
Symptoms Of Opioid Overdose
So how can you tell someone is possibly overdosing from opioids? The following symptoms are a great indicator. However, an individual might be suffering a different health condition so don’t be quick to make conclusions, if someone you love presents these symptoms, present them to a health care professional and the recommended drug tests will be carried out to give a definite diagnosis.
Symptoms of opioid overdose include:
- Confusion, drunks like behavior and delirium
- Excessive vomiting
- Pupils that are pinpointed
- Inability to stay awake or extreme sleepiness
- Recurring loss of consciousness
- Difficulty in breathing, slow breathing or irregular breathing
- Respiratory arrest
- Clammy skin that is cold or skin that turns blue under the fingernails and on the lips
The most alarming side effect of an opioid overdose is depressed breathing. When the brain is derived of oxygen, neurologic damage can occur and it is irreversible. Depressed breathing could also be coupled with multiple organ failure on the liver, heart and even kidneys. If an individual is going through an opioid overdose, they should not be allowed to sleep because they can easily die as the respiratory depression deteriorates.
Help For Opioid Overdose
If you suspect your loved one is overdosing on opioids, it is important to call for emergency medical support promptly. As you wait for emergency help to get to you, roll the individual overdosing on their side. This position will protect the individual from chocking should they vomit while unconscious. If the person has not lost consciousness, do everything you can to keep them awake while you wait for the medics to arrive. Talk to them, slap them gently, use a cold towel on their forehead and keep reminding them to stay up. Every moment they are awake will help prevent them from going through respiratory arrest.
Panic is common during opiate overdose and you might be tempted to leave the individual overdosing by themselves while you seek help. This would be the wrong move to make. People overdosing on opioids can deteriorate in a matter of seconds and should therefore never be left on their own. If they are still conscious, they could easily wander and cause harm to themselves or to others. They could also stop breathing suddenly without detection and this could increase the risk of neurologic failure.
Once a person suffers an opioid overdose, they should receive emergency medical care. Doctors usually perform several treatments in an attempt to save the individual’s life. Some of these treatments include:
- Intubation or airway management. This is performed to ensure that the affected individual continues to breathe adequately
- Administration of activated charcoal which helps minimize the absorption of more intoxicants ingested
- Stomach pumping also referred to as gastric lavage. This may be performed over and above the administration of activated charcoal
- Treatment of heart problems or cardiac arrest that can occur as a result of drug use and overdose.
- Administration of fluids intravenously. These fluids help in stabilizing hydration so as to manage hypoglycemia or electrolyte imbalances that often result from vomiting and dehydration.
- Administration of the drug Naloxone.
- Administration of acetylcysteine. This is done if there is a possibility that the individual is also suffering from acetaminophen toxicity.
Reversing Opioid Overdose Using Naloxone
One of the most popular treatments used during opioid overdoses is known as naloxone. This drug has been used for decades especially in treating patients who overdose from the heroine. It has continued to prove effective and reliable. However, due to the opioid abuse epidemic, most states have started encouraging emergency responders as well as caregivers to carry with them naloxone in form of nasal sprays or injectable, so that they can quickly administer help in case of an overdose. In these form, the drugs are quickly and easily absorbed in the bloodstream and quickly reacts to counteract the effects of the opioids in one’s system.
Naloxone binds itself to the brain receptors in the same way opioid drugs do. By doing so, naloxone prevents the opioid drug from creating a high for at least one hour following administration. If given to the overdosing patient early, naloxone can, in fact, reverse the overdose for a while thus giving medical personnel an opportunity to administer more medical interventions from a health facility.
Naloxone can also be a great antidote for opiate overdose. It is however not without it’s a fair share of risks. Depending on the quantity and frequency of drugs taken before an overdose, and whether other drugs were also consumed before the overdose, naloxone may not successfully reverse the overdose effects. Doctors might also have to administer the naloxone multiple time as they prepare for other medical interventions.
An individual who suffers an overdose should get additional medical attention including emotional and psychological support, to avoid future incidences of an overdose.
Getting Help After An Opioid Overdose
Opioid overdoses are extremely terrifying and life-threatening. Many who survive this kind of experience take it as a sign that they need help to quit the habit. Opioid addiction is not easy to fight on your own. People that suffer from oxycontin, Vicodin or morphine addiction should not undermine the grip these drugs can have on one’s life. More often than not, people tend to be more terrified of drugs such as heroin and undermine the effect of synthetic opioids reserved for medicinal use.
Help can be obtained from reliable addiction rehabilitation centers and programs and this is there for everyone struggling with addiction whether you have overdosed or not.
There are also inpatient rehabilitation centers which are very effective in treating opioid addiction. These programs guarantee round the clock monitoring and help from trained personnel, who take the affected individuals through the detox program and then provide aftercare services through counseling and support groups, all of which are aimed at helping the opioid addict stay clean after detox.
Going through withdrawal in the safety of a rehabilitation center or medical facility is important because one is given the tools to cope with craving, which if not managed can easily lead to a relapse.
In conclusion, opioid withdrawal can but seldom causes death. If withdrawal is experienced under the keen supervision of medical personnel, death should never be a point of concern.
Opioid overdose, however, does and often leads to death but if emergency interventions are provided as soon as the incident occurs, one can survive and seek the help they need to get clean from opioid addiction.