According to the American Medical Association’s Issue Brief from May 2022, during the COVID-19 pandemic, all US states have reported a rise in overdose deaths. The evidence continues to point to culprits such as methamphetamine, illicit fentanyl, cocaine, fentanyl analogs, or a combination of substances. Health professionals and society need to better understand this trend.
The Origin of the Opioid Crisis in America
Since the late 1990s, many pharmaceutical companies released prescription opioid pain relievers with the promise that they were not addictive. Health providers prescribed them at a greater rate. This led to a widespread diversion and misuse of these opioid medications before they proved to be highly addictive.
Around a decade later, opioid overdose began to increase. Many overdoses occurred due to prescription opioids as well as illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid that is often mixed with other drugs.
Years of advocacy against this trend led to a decline in opioid overdose deaths. However, the COVID-19 pandemic reversed this decline, placing opioid use back on a dangerous track.
At the Center of Three Public Health Storms
Since 2019, the U.S. has witnessed three co-occurring public health storms: the COVID pandemic, a mental health crisis, and increasing opioid addiction and overdose deaths. These three trends are closely linked.
As COVID restrictions and social distancing continue, more and more people develop mental health issues. And since opioid drugs remain highly accessible (even via online sales), and social isolation exacerbates the lack of monitoring, more overdose deaths occur.
Why Do Overdoses Happen?
An overdose happens when a person takes in too much of a substance or a mixture of substances. In most instances, overdoses are accidental. Drug users usually do not want overdose to occur. However, when impaired, they may lack the cognitive capacity to discern the signs of increasing intoxication and overdose. Unfortunately, some overdoses are intentional; drug overdose has been used as a method of suicide.
Illicit drugs may pose a higher risk of overdose because illegal manufacturers tend to mix multiple opioids together to raise the potency and lower the cost. Illicit drug buyers are not informed of this danger. Some people experience overdose because the drugs they purchase are a different combination than they were aware of.
Apart from opioid overdose, there are many other kinds of overdoses, depending on the substance involved. For example, alcohol overdoses happen when people drink more than the body can safely process, leading to alcohol poisoning.
Overdose may happen when drugs are mixed with alcohol. Central nervous system-related depressants also present a risk of overdose because they work by lowering blood pressure and body temperature while releasing anxiety.
Identifying Symptoms of an Overdose
Overdose symptoms are common across all types of substance misuse. The symptoms of an overdose may vary depending on the properties of the substance. However, they often include mental confusion, cognitive impairment, vomiting, seizures, slow or absent breathing, bluish skin color due to lack of blood circulation, low blood pressure, fever, stroke, and other alarming signs. Sometimes stimulant overdose may lead to severe headaches, chest pain, and cardiac arrest.
First responders are often not the first to detect these signs. They are usually noticed first by family and friends. Timing is critical in overdosing situations, so it is imperative to know how to respond. An immediate call to 911 should be placed. Then, if opioid overdose is suspected, an observer should try to find naloxone and administer it.
Meanwhile, the person should not be forcefully stimulated, which may cause further harm. Avoid attempts to cause the overdosing person to vomit, as this may lead to choking or blocking their air passageways. The person should be placed in a recovery position while their breathing is supported. An overdosing person tends to have a lower body temperature. Therefore, efforts should be made to keep them warm until help arrives.
Raising Public Awareness About Prevention and Early Intervention
Advocates have been calling for prescription drug monitoring programs. Health professionals can partner with community organizations (such as schools) to launch wider awareness campaigns.
Education is always the most powerful prevention measure. If school educators and parents do their due diligence in educating children about the science behind addiction and recovery, a younger generation can be prepared for this challenge before it occurs.
Like with all public health emergencies, opioid overdose deserves more attention among the public so that everyone is equipped with the knowledge and means about how to serve as first responders. Recovery experts should work toward educating the public to reduce the stigma around opioid addiction.
If you or someone you love has a substance addiction, you should seek professional treatment as soon as possible; lack of intervention may lead to a dangerous and life-threatening overdose. Understanding why overdose happens and how to identify it and intervene may help save lives. If you want to be coached by some experienced recovery experts, you do not need to look beyond Casa Recovery. We have healthcare professionals who treat alcohol addiction, drug addiction, and co-occurring mental health problems. Our facility also offers trauma-informed care. Our treatment team is highly experienced in addressing a wide range of emotional and mental health needs. Your treatment team will work with you to provide customized, efficient, and effective treatment methods that have been developed and applied in clinical settings. Early intervention is key. Do not delay for another day. Call us today at (888) 928-2272.