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!