Opioid-induced respiratory depression (OIRD) is the main cause of death for people who overdose.
Take too much of an opioid like Vicodin or fentanyl, and you will overwhelm your opioid receptors, which decreases your body’s natural drive to breath, leading to respiratory depression and overdose.
In 2020, more than 56,000 people died due to synthetic opioid misuse . If you misuse opioids, the risk of overdose is real.
There are medications that can reverse and overdose. Naloxone (Narcan) is one such medication. If you or someone you know misuses opioids, make sure you have a Narcan prescription with you at all times and know how to use it.
Opioids have a tendency to reduce the body’s respiratory drive or our brain’s natural tendency to keep us breathing. This is called respiratory depression or sometimes respiratory suppression.
Opioid medications bind to the cells of the brain called the brainstem that are responsible for stimulating our respiratory drive. Opioids suppress the brainstem so that the body “forgets” to breathe.
Anyone who misuses opioids is at risk for OIRD. But some factors increase your chances of respiratory distress.
Those risk factors include the following:
Remember that anyone who takes opioids can overdose, including people who don't have these risk factors. But if you do have one of the issues on this list, you must be especially careful.
The best way to ensure that you don't overdose is to stop taking opioids altogether. If you must take them, you can lower your overdose risks.
There are ways to minimize the risk of opioid-induced respiratory depression. Here are a few:
Naloxone (brand name Narcan) is a prescription medication capable of reversing opioid-induced respiratory depression. Naloxone works by binding to opioid receptors instead of the opioid itself, quickly reversing the opioid’s effects and stopping the subsequent respiratory depression that the opioid causes.
Naloxone is remarkably effective, and take-home programs that put the medication in the hands of people with drug issues can save lives.
If you have naloxone with you and you are concerned someone is overdosing, you should immediately administer Narcan and then call 911.
Once an ambulance arrives, people who overdosed may be awake after a naloxone dose. But they may need additional help. Doctors can use respiratory stimulant drugs in a hospital setting to restart their system and get them breathing normally again.
While reversal medications like this can save lives, experts warn that some people experience such profound respiratory depression that they can't be saved even with Narcan administration.
If you're misusing opioids, an overdose might be a wake up call that you need additional help. Reach out to your doctor, or use here at Bicycle health for more information.