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Heroin Overdose

Heroin is one of the most commonly abused fatal drugs in the United States. It is an immensely addictive substance used in the form of white or brown powder or sometimes a black substance named as ‘black tar heroin’. Heroin is consumed in a number of ways such as snorting the powdered form, smoking it or dissolving it in the water and injecting intravenously. Heroin quickly produces its effects in the body by giving intense pleasure to the user.

Heroin Overdose

Table of contents:

  • 1.What is heroin overdose?
  • 2.How much heroin is too much?
  • 3.What are the causes of heroin overdose?
  • 4.What are the signs and symptoms of heroin overdose?
  • 5.What are the risk factors for heroin overdose?
  • 6.How to deal with a heroin overdose?
  • 7.How to prevent a heroin overdose?

What is heroin overdose?

Heroin is an extremely addictive substance and when taken in high quantities, serious adverse health effects are produced. It is possible to even die of heroin overdose and there have been many similar cases in the past. Heroin is central nervous system depressant derived from the psychoactive chemicals present in opium poppy. It acts on opioid receptors present in the brain and produces a feeling of relief from anxiety and pain. When a large amount of heroin is consumed at once, the body fails to metabolize the substance as quickly as it is being administrated resulting into toxicity.

How much heroin is too much?

No safe limit can be established for heroin use. How much drug should be taken at once depends upon a number of factors such as purity of the drug being used, tolerance level of the user, age and weight of the user, whether or not user suffers from some medical condition and so on.

Users have reporting taking 5mg to 1500mg of heroin per day. The average dose of heroin is estimated to be between 300 to 500mg per day. Addicts usually consume the drug 3-4 times every day. The purity of heroin sold in the streets varies a great deal, usually ranging from 10 to 70%. So it is not possible to determine a specific amount that may result into an overdose.

What are the causes of heroin overdose?

Heroin overdose can be accidental or intentional.

  • Accidental overdose:
    Accidental overdose is resulted when the user unintentionally intakes high amounts of the drug. It may happen due to addiction and abuse of the drug. Also the tolerance level, age and whether the user suffers from some medical condition is important in this regard. Small kids and mentally unstable people can also overdose on the drug not having a knowledge about the consequences.
  • Intentional overdose:
    Intentional overdose occurs when the user consumes high amounts of the drug on purpose. The motives behind this practice maybe self harm or suicide. If a person is spotted with intentional overdose, psychological help should be provided to them to avoid any similar incident in the future.

What are signs and symptoms of heroin overdose?

Overdosing on heroin can be a fatal condition. A number of signs and symptoms are produced that may vary depending upon:

  • Amount and purity of heroin taken
  • Whether or not it was taken in combination with another drug
  • Age and weight of the user

Some common signs and symptoms produced by heroin overdose include:

  • Blueness of nails and lips
  • Low respiratory rate
  • Extreme drowsiness/inability to stay conscious
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Disorientation
  • Dry mouth
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Death

What are the risk factors for heroin overdose?

The biggest risk factor for heroin overdose is using heroin at all. The only definite way of eliminating any chance of overdosing is to quit the usage of drug. A number of rehabilitation centers, therapies and aftercare programs are designed to help the addicts. Some other factors that can increase the chance of overdosing include:

  • Not having a knowledge about drug use and its safe limits.
  • Combining heroin with other drugs such as cocaine. Cocaine is a stimulant while heroin is a depressant. When used together, cocaine can mask the effects of heroin so the user may end up taking heroin in dangerously high amounts. This combination is commonly called ‘speedball’ and the opposing effects of both the drugs being produced at the same time can be extremely dangerous.
  • Combining heroin with alcohol. This combination can prove to be deadly since both these substances are Central Nervous System depressants and when used together, breathing and heart rate can be depressed to dangerous levels and death is resulted.
  • Development of tolerance can be another factor. The user takes higher and higher amounts of heroin every time in a desperate attempt to achieve the desired effects. Eventually, the dose is increased to lethal levels.
  • Having low tolerance for heroin but still taking it in high amounts.

How to deal with a heroin overdose?

If a person is spotted with heroin overdose, immediate medical care should be sought by calling 911 or the results can be fatal. Meanwhile:

  • Check if the patient is breathing and perform a CPR if a trained person is available and if there is a need.
  • Give naloxone to the patient if available and if you know how to use it. It acts as an antidote for opioid drugs and helps reverse the effects of heroin produced in the body. But it only works for 30 to 90 minutes and after that its effects start to wear off so emergency help is still needed.

How to prevent a heroin overdose?

There is no definite way to prevent a heroin overdose. However, some precautionary measures can be helpful in this regard such as:

  • Having a knowledge about the safe limits, side effects and overdose symptoms of heroin.
  • Getting a heroin addict proper treatment.
  • Keeping toxic substances out of the reach of mentally unstable people and small children.
  • Avoiding its usage in combination with another drug or alcohol.
  • Keeping naloxone handy if you know someone who abuses heroin


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