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Overdoses: More Common Than You Might Think

January 22, 2018

Whether it’s caused by drugs or alcohol, an overdose occurs when a person has digested an excessive, or even lethal, amount of commonly abused substances. While sometimes a person might do this purposefully, most of the time it happens accidentally.

Indiana is one of the top 20 states for overdoses in the US.1 In 2015, Indiana saw 1,245 overdoses that led to death, leading to a mortality rate of 19.5 per 100,000. This week, January 22 – January 28, is National Drugs and Alcohol Facts Week, so we’re sharing facts and signs to look out for in the case of an overdose.

Most Commonly Abused Substances

  • Alcohol
    • Alcohol is the most frequently used substance in Indiana and the United States as a whole. In 2015, 26.9 percent of people ages 18 or older participated in binge drinking. Furthermore, an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually.2
    • Additionally, a long-time habit of heavy alcohol drinking can have a major impact on your immune system, making you more susceptible to diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis.
  • Opiates, opioids and synthetic opioids or prescription pain killers
    • This includes heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine, codeine and hydrocodone.
    • More than half of all drug overdose deaths are due to prescription drug misuse. Heroin and other opioid overdoses kill 27,000 people every year.3
    • According to IndyStar, nearly 1 in 20 people in Indiana have reported using opioids for non-medical uses. Fatal overdoses rose 3.5 percent each year from 2011 to 2015.4
  • Cocaine/Crack
  • Methamphetamine, or meth
  • Sedatives
    • This includes Benzodiazepines, glutethimide, chloral hydrate, meprobamate and methaqualone. More commonly known names are Valium, Xanax and Klonopin.
  • Over-the-Counter Drugs
    • This includes acetaminophen (found in pain killers), diphenhydramine (antihistamine used in sleep and allergy medications) and dextromethorphan (common in cold and cough medicines).

Risk Factors

Abuse of any substance can put you at risk for an overdose. However, certain actions or circumstances can increase that risk, leading to a faster or more severe overdose5:

  • Low tolerance, due to either inexperience with the substance or body type
  • Tolerance build-up, leading to a gradual dosage increase overtime
  • Intravenous drug use; which can also increase your risk of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C
  • Abusing multiple substances at once, including alcohol
  • Prior overdoses or substance abuse issues
  • Current or previous mental health issues

Signs of an Overdose

While the signs of an overdose vary depending on the substance that you use, there are common symptoms that you can look for:

Severe difficulty breathing, shallow breathing, or complete cessation of breath Gurgling sounds that indicate the person’s airway is blocked Chest Pain Dilated Pupils
Violent, aggressive behavior Disorientation or confusions Nausea or vomiting Abnormally high body temperature
Unsteady Walking Blue lips or fingers Paranoia Agitation
Convulsions or tremors Seizures Unresponsiveness Unconsciousness

If you suspect that someone is having an overdose, it is vital to seek medical attention right away. Do not be afraid of legal repercussions, even if the user is underage or using an illegal substance. A medical professional’s main priority is to save your life, and ignoring the signs may lead to death.

Do not wait. Call 911 or visit an emergency room as soon as possible.

Avoiding an Overdose

To avoid an accidental overdose, it is imperative to take medication exactly as directed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find out what additional drugs are safe to take in tandem with previously prescribed medication. As for alcohol, make sure to know your limits and drink responsibly. A blood alcohol concentration of .250 or more can lead to alcohol poisoning or death. Not sure how many drinks you should have? The University of Notre Dame’s online BAC calculator allows you to estimate your blood alcohol concentration based on your weight and what you are drinking.

More than 2 million substance-dependent individuals seek treatment every year. If you feel that you have developed an addiction, the hotline (1-877-388-4945) is open 24 hours a day to discuss treatment options and help you find the nearest treatment facility.

If you need high-quality medical attention with little-to-no wait, St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital offers comprehensive services for serious of emergencies. Our in-house labs provide quick turnaround times on tests so we can find the root of the problem as quickly as possible. After being treated, our inpatient services allow for extended observations. We’re open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Visit our Noblesville location today.

Other resources:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Facility Locator
1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

American Association of Poison Control Centers