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What are signs of an opioid overdose?

The most worrisome complication of opioid use is an “overdose,” which means that the body’s natural drive to breathe is so suppressed that the patient stops breathing. This causes respiratory collapse and eventual death. If you see someone who has taken opioids who looks like they are breathing slowly or with difficulty, this is a worrisome sign of opioid overdose. 

If this person is not breathing, has no pulse, and is unresponsive, you should call 911 and, if available, administer Narcan (or naloxone) immediately. Please note that you will NEVER be held legally responsible or “get in trouble” for calling 911 or for administering Narcan to a patient if you think they have overdosed, so don’t let worries about this stop you from trying to help that person immediately!


Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where she works as a primary care physician as well as part time in pain management and integrated health. Her clinical interests include underserved health care, chronic pain and integrated/alternative health.

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