Heroin is known for being a drug that can easily trigger a dangerous overdose. As a potent opioid, this drug depresses the central nervous system, which controls some of the most essential functions of the body. This includes the heart, the respiratory system, and the gastrointestinal system. The most immediate danger of heroin overdose is respiratory depression, in which the victim’s breathing slows down to dangerous rates.
People who have taken a high dose of heroin may find it difficult to breathe or find that they have to make a conscious effort to do so rather than it happening automatically. Unfortunately, heroin also tends to cause severe drowsiness and makes it difficult to concentrate. An overdose can result in total loss of consciousness, meaning that the victim will be unable to consciously regulate breathing. If this happens, they may not be able to get enough oxygen to the brain. In this way, heroin overdose can end in coma, brain damage, or death.
Heroin overdose symptoms include:
- Dry mouth
- Extremely small pupils
- Bluish lips or fingernails
- Discolored tongue
- Stomach or intestinal spasms
- Uncontrolled muscle movements
- Low blood pressure
- Weak pulse
- No breathing
Heroin overdose deaths are currently on the rise. In 2014, 10,574 people died from overdose involving heroin – about 22 percent of the total overdose deaths in the US that year.
What Causes Overdose?
An overdose of a drug tends to be different for everyone. Intoxicants like heroin will cause users to build up a tolerance to the drug, so they must take higher and higher doses to get the same effect. Over time, the brain adjusts itself to the substance in order to lessen its effect. This also means that the maximum dose the person can take before risking death gets higher over time to a point.
People who have low or no tolerance to drugs in the same class as heroin can trigger an overdose even by taking a relatively small amount. Inexperienced users may take too much at a time or take more before enough of the drug has left their system. There have been reports of individuals overdosing during their first time trying heroin because the drug is so potent.
At the same time, people who have been using the drug for a long time may overdose because their tolerance has made it so they don’t experience much pleasure at all when taking a reasonable dose. They may also mix drugs in an attempt to increase the effects.
Alternatively, heroin is often “laced” or “cut” with other substances to make it more appealing to buyers. In recent years, there has been a growing problem with sudden spikes in overdose cases due to heroin being laced with an even more potent opiate, fentanyl.
Lastly, people can overdose on a drug during a relapse. Addicted individuals may attempt to stop taking heroin, but after a few days, the cravings and withdrawal symptoms get the best of them. Unfortunately, even that small amount of time without the drug can significantly lower a person’s tolerance. If that person is unaware of this fact, the individual may go back to taking the same amount of heroin they were used to before they tried to quit.
A drug overdose is often a wakeup call. Overdose that is triggered by mixing drugs or taking high doses in an attempt to get the same high the person used to experience is a strong indication of an addiction. It’s often an ideal time to look into treatment options.