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What Is A Heroin Overdose?

Heroin is an outlawed, very addictive and fast-acting opiate narcotic. When it's taken it gets into the brain and then binds itself to opioid receptors. The person taking this drug immediately feels a rush of euphoria which then alternates between states of arousal and drowsiness. One may sniff, inject, smoke or snort heroin, and it puts several bodily tasks at risk including:

  • Regulating blood pressure
  • Regulating respiration
  • Controlling heart rate
  • Controlling behavioral and emotional arousal

Heroin is a very widely abused and addictive drug. There are so many dangers associated with its addiction. Of all the dangers of this drug, an overdose is the most dangerous. It can lead to very serious, possibly permanent health problems and even death in some cases. A heroin overdose occurs when one takes way too much of the drug than is recommended. Many times, an overdose of heroin occurs after a long period of abstinence from the drug. But a heroin overdose is not only caused by that. Even someone who is an active addict of heroin may suffer from overdose sometimes. Another common reason why heroin overdose occurs is the use of the drug in combination with others.

What causes a heroin overdose?

Depending on drug interactions as well as many other factors, heroin overdose can lead to death in a matter of minutes or even hours because of anoxia as there is suppression of the breathing reflex by opioids. One can immediately reverse an overdose of heroin using an injection known as opioid antagonist.

Heroin overdoses may occur as a result of an unusual increase in the purity or dose or as a result of reduced opioid tolerance. However, most of the deaths reported are perhaps due to the interaction of heroin with other depressants such as alcohol or benzodiazepines.

It is important to note that since heroin may cause vomiting and nausea, a large number of fatalities reportedly caused by an overdose are due to aspiration of vomit in an unconscious victim.

Heroin sold on the street varies widely and has unpredictable purity. Therefore, it means that one may think that they are taking a moderate dose when in fact it is an overdose.

In addition, tolerance to the drug normally reduces after a long period of abstinence. In case this happens and one takes a dose similar to the one previously taken, he/she may experience much greater drug effects, potentially causing a dangerous overdose of the drug.

Another factor that can lead to an overdose is place conditioning. The use of heroin is a behavior that is highly ritualized. While it is still a mystery why this happens, those who have used heroin for a long time exhibit increased tolerance to it in places where it has been repeatedly administered.

When one injects in another place, this environment-conditioned tolerance may not occur, resulting in a greater effect of the drug. The typical dose taken by an user, against reduced tolerance, can be far too high as well as toxic, causing an overdose.

Sometimes cocaine can lead to death when taken alongside heroin. Although a combination of these two drugs is popular among users, the injected (speedballs) and smoked (moonrocks) combination can have unpredictable or even fatal consequences.

What are the signs of a heroin overdose?

The main sign of an overdose of heroin is depressed breathing which may cause death due to suffocation. A heroin overdose is different from a stimulant overdose in which blood pressure increases leading to a heart attack. Instead, a patient will experience opposite effects, in which their circulatory system and central nervous system are depressed and under-function or stop functioning altogether.

In order to reverse an overdose of heroin, an intense stimulant or even adrenaline hormone will be injected into the person so as to stabilize both the circulatory and central nervous systems.

The following are the obvious signs that indicate a heroin overdose:

    Shallow breathing in the lungs and airways as well as difficult and slow breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Tongue discoloration
  • Extremely tiny pupils, sometimes as tiny as the size of the tip of a pin (pinpoint pupils)
  • Weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Bluish-colored lips and fingernails
  • Constipation
  • Spasms of the intestinal tract and stomach
  • Delirium
  • Coma
  • Drowsiness
  • Disorientations
  • Muscle spasticity

Effects of heroin overdose

There are several long-term health implications possible with a heroin overdose. A person may slip into an indefinite coma, suffer damage to the brain, or get irreversible damage to the respiratory system and the heart. The use of heroin poses various health risks apart from overdose. A majority of these risks are due to intravenous use of the drug. Those who use heroin intravenously are exposed to a wide range of risks such as Hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS when they share needles.

What to do in case someone suffers a heroin overdose

If somebody exhibits any of the symptoms of overdose above, seek emergency medical help at once. Heroin overdose does not always cause death; there is a greater chance of recovery if it is reported as soon as it happens. If you happen to witness an overdose of the drug, you should not try to encourage vomiting or do anything else until you are told to do so by a medic. If possible, you should try to talk to the victim so that you extract more information to give to emergency responders.

How to prevent a heroin overdose

There is no medical justification for anybody to take heroin, but some people use the drug for self-medication in order to cope with mental health disorders such as depression. Other people use heroin for reasons like the following:

To feel like part of the crowd
To deal with an emotional problem
To feel an euphoria or rush
To escaping from overwhelming problems everyday

No matter what you are currently going through, there is absolutely no reason for you to abuse heroin. Heroin is highly addictive, not to mention the fact that there is a very huge risk of an overdose. Regardless of the problems you are dealing with, there are many other less risky forms of treatment. But the only foolproof way to escape from a life-threatening overdose of heroin is to stay away from it altogether.