Heroin is a potent narcotic derived from morphine. The morphine is made from the seed pod of poppy plants. Heroin is an analgesic and is in the class of opioids, and it works in the brain the same way that prescription pain medication does.
People use heroin because it can induce extreme euphoria quickly that can dull mental and physical pain. Heroin depresses the central nervous system, which means that it slows down areas in the body that control breathing, heart rate, and body temperature.
When breathing is slowed down to the point that the body forgets that it needs to breathe, an overdose is likely to happen. When someone drinks alcohol and uses heroin at the same time, they are more likely to pass out and choke on the vomit that comes up. The heroin prevents the individual from waking up, and they suffocate on their own vomit.
The nervous system is in charge of delivering signals to different parts of the body and brain to perform specific tasks. The central nervous system is compromised of the brain and spinal cord.
The information from the brain urging someone to breathe does not get through when the signals are slowed down. All of the impacts on the central nervous system occur rapidly. Depending on the route of administration, heroin can quickly lead to an overdose.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, fatal overdoses in Tennessee increased 50.1 percent over the previous year. Tennessee currently has the second-highest deadly drug overdose rate in the US, with 51.8 deaths per 100,000 people.
Let’s talk about what a heroin overdose is, why it happens, and what you should do if you ever see someone overdosing. A heroin overdose is an emergency that is life-threatening, and if you recognize the symptoms and signs heroin addiction, you may be able to save your loved one’s life.
What Is a Heroin Overdose and How Does It Happen?
An overdose of heroin can occur if a person consumes too much. In addition, when various medications, such as alcohol and opioids are used together, an overdose can occur.
Finally, when two central nervous system depressants are combined, breathing can decrease to a dangerous degree and eventually stop.
According to The Knox County Regional Forensic Center, drug-related mortality in Knox and Anderson counties doubled between 2010 and 2015. Opioids, including heroin, are the primary cause of overdoses in Knox County.
Overdosing on heroin isn’t always a conscious decision to take too much. Instead, people who use heroin will have acquired a higher tolerance to achieve the same effects as they did with lesser doses at first.
Over time, the amount increases daily until danger levels are reached, and overdoses can happen for several reasons.
Some reasons that an overdose can occur are:
- Taking too much heroin
- Mixing with drugs or alcohol
- Using an unknown quality
- Heroin is cut with the exponentially more potent fentanyl
Identifying Early Warning Signs of a Potential Heroin Overdose
There are a few early warning signals to look out for if you are concerned.
For example, if someone is withdrawing from heroin or other opioids, they tend to take more than usual to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms. They also run the danger of buying products of questionable quality from unknown sources.
As a result, they may make poor choices to alleviate the discomfort.
Whenever anyone you care about is withdrawing from heroin, they are more likely to overdose because they will make poor decisions to feel better.
Another harmful withdrawal tendency is that several people often replace another substance or alcohol because they are relatively easy to obtain. Drinking or using another substance can temporarily ease withdrawal symptoms until they locate their preferred drug.
The problem is that once they receive heroin or another opiate, they mix it with other drugs or alcohol, increasing the danger of overdose. For example, someone may take their regular dose, but if they have been drinking alcohol all day, they may overdose since both are central nervous system depressants.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Heroin Overdose That You Should Be Aware of?
There are three major components that medical professionals explain to look for in the case of an overdose.
- Look for pin-point pupils
- Slowed or stopped breathing
Some other signs and symptoms of a heroin overdose include:
- Pale face
- Clammy skin
- Inability to talk but may try
- Dry foaming at the mouth in the corners
- Blue lips and nails
- Falling in and out of consciousness
- Not breathing
- Skin changes colors
- The body becomes limp or rigid
- Pulse is either slow or not recognizable
- They may fall out of a chair or off a bed with no warning
- Gurgling sounds
- Vomited, the possibility of choking on it while unresponsive
What Are Some Dangers of an Overdose?
While overdosing, the brain is deprived of oxygen for as long they are not breathing. This can result in brain damage, particularly if the person has had multiple overdoses. As a result, certain brain cells may be damaged and die.
Toxic brain damage is a condition that can occur after an overdose. When there is a nonfatal overdose, and no oxygen goes to the brain for an extended period, toxic brain damage occurs. A lack of oxygen for a few minutes can be fatal to the brain and cause irreparable damage.
There are some common symptoms of brain damage from a toxic brain injury that include:
- Memory problems
- Mood changes
- Difficulty with problem solving and reasoning
Some forms of brain damage can be repaired over time. The brain can heal itself over time, especially if someone stops using and spends a long time in recovery. The best chance of mending any brain damage caused by an overdose is to take the first step toward recovery.
In the Event of an Overdose, What Should You Do?
If you intervene fast, you can reverse a heroin overdose. Naloxone or Narcan, as well as other life-saving measures, are frequently required. Naloxone is a drug that can quickly change the effects of heroin in the brain, potentially saving a person’s life.
Immediately call 911.
Check for breathing and try to encourage the person to speak. If you can, give them CPR breathing and wait for the paramedics to arrive.
An overdose can be reversed using Naloxone. You must make sure that anyone you care about who may be using heroin carries it or that you have it on hand at all times. If you see someone overdosing, you might be able to save their life.
Who Is at the Greatest Risk of a Heroin Overdose?
People who take prescription pain killers are at the greatest risk of a heroin overdose. Eventually, prescriptions run out, friends run out, and there are no pain pills on the street to purchase. So to avoid the misery of withdrawal, people will try heroin instead.
Heroin is often cheaper than pain pills are on the street and usually more readily available. The problem is that, even with a high opioid tolerance to pain pills, a person may not have a tolerance to heroin itself and may do too much.
Also, people may experience withdrawal symptoms before the drug leaves the system. so ingesting heroin before the painkillers have entirely left the system is like mixing the two depressants and might result in an overdose.
Some Common Risk Factors for Heroin Overdose
- There are some common risk factors for a heroin overdose, including:
- Changes in the level of tolerance: going to detox or getting out of jail
- Changes in the quality of the heroin
- Fentanyl or other synthetics are mixed into the heroin
- Mixing with alcohol or benzos
- Having a low immune system
- Liver disease
- Asthma or other respiratory condition
- Inject the substance
- Mixing the heroin with a stimulant like cocaine or meth: “Speedballing.”
- Having a mental health condition
There may be other risk factors for a heroin overdose, but these are some of the common risks. So, let’s discuss the typical signs to look out for in your loved one.
Understanding the Common Signs of a Heroin Overdose
It is essential to understand the common signs of a heroin overdose as a witness in hopes that you can save someone’s life.
Remember, a person may be overdosing on heroin if they are displaying any of the following symptoms:
- Awake yet unresponsive
- Blue nails or lips
- Choking or gurgling sounds
- Pin-point pupils
- Slurred speech or seems confused
In an overdose case where the person is in a coma-like state, you must call 911 immediately.
Naloxone can save lives by reversing overdoses on heroin.
People who are currently using heroin, leaving treatment centers, or leaving emergency rooms after a nonfatal overdose can get free Naloxone from Tennessee Overdose Prevention.
Naloxone is also offered without a prescription at all CVS and Walgreens locations across the state.
In case you are concerned about a loved one’s heroin use, it is a good idea to pick up Naloxone from a pharmacy in your area to have in the matter of an overdose. Naloxone is the antidote, and it can be the difference between life and death.
Unfortunately, heroin overdose is a terrifying consequence of heroin use disorder. Thankfully though, treatment options are available.
What Are the Treatment Options Available For Heroin Use Disorder?
Heroin use disorder can strike anyone, regardless of occupation or social background. It does not discriminate.
Heroin treatment is available to help people go on the road to recovery.
Many individuals have been in your shoes and experienced withdrawal, which can be frightening.
At ReVIDA Recovery®, we provide a medically assisted treatment (MAT) program that is comprehensive and tailored to your needs.
Recovery is not only possible, but many people have already demonstrated successful recovery from heroin use disorder with our MAT program, which includes Suboxone®, group and individual therapy, and 12-step programs.
At ReVIDA Recovery®, we are proud to offer MAT treatment and outpatient therapy that will work around your life.
Suboxone® will help you overcome your severe cravings and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms so you can concentrate on what matters most: your recovery.
If you or someone you love struggles with a heroin use disorder, call ReVIDA Recovery® immediately to take the first step toward recovery.
Our goal at ReVIDA Recovery® is to help you reclaim your life!
Please call ReVIDA Recovery® today at 423-631-0432.
Some FAQs About Heroin Overdoses
What to do if someone is overdosing?
Immediately call 911. If they are breathing, try to stabilize them until the medical professionals arrive with Naloxone.
What is the mechanism of heroin in the body?
When heroin is consumed in the body, it is metabolized into a form of morphine. It binds to the brain at the opioid receptors. Then it produces a sudden rush of pleasure throughout the body.
When do you give Narcan?
If Narcan is accessible, it is critical to administer it if you suspect a heroin overdose. Call an emergency number, if you don’t have any to receive medical assistance. Notify the operator that you believe there has been an overdose.